Florida Governor Rick Scott offered up gratitude for the election of Donald Trump, noted the horror of terrorist attacks in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale and threw his weight behind maligned tourism and business agencies during his sixth State of the State address Tuesday.
Scott also called for a pair of sales tax holidays — a three-day one for veterans and a nine-day one to spur disaster preparedness.
Notably absent from the Republican governor’s remarks to the Florida Legislature on the opening day of its 2017 session was any mention of the opioid and heroin epidemic that has ravaged families in Palm Beach County and throughout the state.
“That tells you where his priorities are,” said Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick, a Democrat who, with other county officials, traveled to Tallahassee for two days of meetings with state legislative leaders. “If you have your head in the sand, we won’t make progress on this.”
Scott’s fulsome backing of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida put him on a collision course with fellow Republicans in the House, who have ripped the agencies as havens of waste and corporate welfare.
Those lawmakers set their sights on Visit Florida last year, demanding to know how much it was paying rapper Pitbull to promote the state.
When the agency balked at providing that information, lawmakers sued. Pitbull then disclosed that his promotion contract was worth $1 million, enraging lawmakers.
In remarks to the state House of Representatives that preceded Scott’s speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, House Speaker Richard Corcoran noted the dust up with Visit Florida and Pitbull.
“We forced another agency into the sunshine, sued a rapper and won, only to reveal even more wasteful spending,” Corcoran said.
Scott, however, has continued to support Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which provides tax incentives to lure businesses to the state.
The governor was blunt in backing Visit Florida.
“Getting rid of Visit Florida and ending advertising for tourism doesn’t make any sense in the real world,” Scott said. “Successful companies know how to market themselves, and they don’t stop advertising when business is good.”
Enterprise Florida’s chief executive officer, Chris Hart, resigned Monday after only a few weeks on the job. House leaders have vowed to eliminate the agency, which they describe as a source of corporate welfare.
Scott made clear he isn’t on board with plans to scrap the agency.
“It’s easy to throw around catch phrases like ‘picking winners and losers’ and ‘corporate welfare,’” the governor said. “By the way, I don’t like either of those. I doubt anyone in this chamber does. But that’s not what we’re doing. We are competing with 49 other states and hundreds of counties for jobs.”
Palm Beach County officials said they back both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.
County Commissioner Mack Bernard, a former state representative, mingled on the floor with his former colleagues in the House before Scott’s speech. He said Enterprise Florida came up during discussions he had last week with the Business Development Board.
“We don’t want the state to get rid of it,” Bernard said.
Scott said Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida haven’t operated flawlessly.
“I want to be very clear in acknowledging that both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida have made mistakes along with their many successes over the years,” he said. “And I do not fault anyone for pointing out those mistakes. Any time we can eliminate government waste, we should do it. But just like we would do in the business world, we have made changes at both agencies so the organizations can be more efficient and transparent.”
This year’s State of the State was the first since Trump’s election, and the governor used a portion of his remarks to note it.
“Our economy is booming, and I am glad that America elected my friend, Donald Trump, a businessman outsider like myself, as president who is focused on growing the national economy,” he said.
Scott addressed the mass killings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June.
“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me,” he said. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”
The governor also mentioned the hurricanes that struck the state last year and the deaths from the Zika virus and the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
“While heartbreaking, these tragedies have given me a new perspective,” he said. “I am now more convinced than ever that the future of our state is even greater than our past accomplishments and that we must be even more resolved to build a society where any child, no matter where they are from, has the opportunity to live their dreams.”
To limit the damage of future hurricanes, Scott proposed a nine-day sales tax holiday for disaster preparedness. He did not spell out when the holiday would take place or how much in sales tax revenue the state would lose.
Still, the general idea drew support from Palm Beach County officials.
“Disaster preparedness is something I would embrace,” Bernard said.
Scott also called for a three-day sales tax holiday for veterans, another proposal that garnered broad support.
The governor’s speech drew polite, not enthusiastic, applause.
State Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, offered praise for the governor’s message but said legislators will need time to sort through the details on many of the proposals.
“I think the governor’s got a cautiously optimistic message,” Powell said.
For Burdick, that message should have included mention of the opioid and heroin epidemic.
“I heard him talk about Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” she said. “I didn’t hear him talk at all about the heroin or the opioid crisis we have in Florida, the lives lost and the families devastated.”
MORE LEGISLATIVE COVERAGE
How the Senate President, House Speaker, Democrats responded, B2
Complete legislative coverage online, PalmBeachPost.com/legislature