(You can watch the whole event here.)
Scott is dealing with a budget surplus for the first time since being elected in 2010, and he's doling out funds to different programs and causes. Along with giving money to education, he's committing $36 million to the disabled for community-based services, and $2.5 million for job training.
You might recall that his campaign theme in 2010 was "Let's Get Back to Work." Giving credit to the Legislature, Scott began his speech by saying he came into office "facing crippling debt, record-high unemployment, and a downward spiral of job losses."
But he boasted of cutting taxes, eliminating "thousands" of regulations, and possessing the first projected budget surplus in six years (also known as the last year before the Great Recession).
Though it's the most intense issue being talked about in Tallahassee right now, the governor waited until nearly the end of his speech to bring up his controversial decision to accept the Obama administration's offer to expand Medicaid coverage — the federal government will pick up the entire tab for three years and 90 percent for every year after. House Republicans think the deal is too good to be true, and a committee in the House rejected the proposal on Monday. Scott said:
We didn't win every battle over the last two years. After a long fight, we lost in the Supreme Court over the President's healthcare law, and we lost a presidential election along with the promise of the law's full repeal.
Now, our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying healthcare to our citizens — or — using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other healthcare improvements. As I wrestled with this decision, I thought about my Mom and her struggles to get my little brother the care he needed with very little money.
I concluded that for the three years the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.
Of course, the best way for any family to access great healthcare is to have a great job.
Needless to say, Republicans were not standing up and cheering at the end of this passage. But Democrats were (as well as Pasco County's Mike Fasano).
Journalists who were present at the speech said there was only tepid applause when the governor announced his plan to give every public school teacher a $2,500 pay raise. Some Republicans think the raises should be merit based, and not given out to everyone. That is the same philosophy that animated Republicans and Gov. Scott two years ago when they passed the merit pay for teachers legislation. Scott acknowledged the murmurs of dissent during his speech, "Some say they are afraid that giving raises to all teachers may mean that a teacher doing a bad job gets rewarded. But, thanks to our work, we are now in a better position than ever before to reward good teachers and move bad teachers out of the classroom ... We don't want a war on teachers; we want a war on failure."
Andy Ford, the Florida Education Association president, said, "We welcome the governor's efforts to increase teacher pay, especially in light of the fact that teachers and other school workers were docked three percent of their salary in 2011 so that the governor and the Legislature could balance the state budget."
Ford added that teachers' pay in Florida remains $10,000 below the national average, "and that's not competitive pay for a state that seeks to be a leader in economic development."
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston gave the official Democratic party statement in response to the governor's speech, "Governor Scott has cut more than a billion dollars from education while giving tax breaks to big corporations. He has the wrong priorities on education, jobs, land and water usage, and voting rights."