SARASOTA — Florida Gov. Rick Scott believes the state’s road to economic recovery depends upon the jobs he believes can be created the quickest — those in the hospitality and agriculture industries.
Scott, who met with The Observer Group’s editorial board Monday at the company’s downtown Sarasota office, said those two industries will be the driving forces in helping to pull the state out of an anticipated $1.2 billion shortfall this year. The state had previously anticipated a $1.5 billion surplus after cutting the budget approximately $700 million last year.
“Tourism will continue to do well,” said Scott, who noted that the Florida Panhandle hotel bed-tax numbers were up 100% compared to a year ago when the BP oil spill devastated the region and its tourism numbers. “There’s no reason to expect the agriculture industry won’t have a good year as well and our ports have big opportunities.”
The elimination of a visa requirement for Brazilians, Scott said, will also help bring more tourism to the area.
Scott also intends to deliver on a campaign promise that involves bringing 700,000 jobs to Florida in seven years.
In a new statement he released over the weekend, Scott said “no matter what the economy might otherwise gain or lose,” his goal was always to create that many jobs.
“We are going to get there,” Scott told The Observer. “We are adding 10,000 jobs a month right now in the private sector alone.”
Scott said the state and its economic leaders must do a better job of promoting the state and also realize that Florida is competing with everyone else for jobs.
The governor said he’s not willing to lure companies to the state with promises of huge tax breaks if they can’t deliver on their promise of jobs and economic growth to the state.
“We can’t give tax breaks to companies unless we hold them accountable,” Scott said. “If they don’t provide what they promised, they need to give the money back.”
To read the complete story, pick up a copy of the Thursday, Oct. 13 editions of the Observers and Pelican Press.
The Observer’s editorial board sat down with Gov. Rick Scott to ask him questions concerning the economy, his plan to increase jobs in Florida and what his goals for the next legislative session are.
Other than seeing that a budget is passed, what key legislation will top your agenda for the next session?
Jobs. We have a big budget deficit that we didn’t anticipate again. We anticipated a $1.5 billion surplus. Instead, we are $1.2 billion short and have to find the money because we are not raising any taxes.
You recently said on CNBC Squawk Box there are three things the federal government can do to help private-sector job growth: reduce regulation, cut taxes and repeal ObamaCare. Assuming the first two also apply to the state level, what specific regulations and taxes do you want to see reduced in the next session?
We cut the budget $700 million. But we have $15 billion in revenues that goes through special tax districts no one gets to vote on that we have to take a look at. We must reduce the state business tax and intangible business property tax.
Look back for a minute on your first nine months: Are there any decisions as governor so far that you’d like to have back or would like to change?
I might do things a little differently, but I wouldn’t make different decisions. People want to know you listened to them, and I would like to come up with a forum where people feel comfortable and can provide me feedback. Town Hall meeting forums are tough when you are the governor.
For a long time, Floridians have talked about broadening the sales tax. You, at one point, supported the idea of removing the state portion of the school property tax and perhaps raising or broadening the sales tax. Do you see yourself pursuing any major tax reform — other than eliminating the corporate income tax?
I think as the economy gets better, I would like to reduce business, property and intangible business taxes. I would like to reduce the sales tax, too, after all the others.
Do you have a plan for the state if the Supreme Court says Obamacare is constitutional?
I am hopeful it will get repealed. If it doesn’t get repealed, it will devastate jobs in our state. Our biggest businesses are hospitality and agriculture, and neither of those industries can afford it. It would also devastate small employers.
What will be your boldest, most controversial proposals next session?
Changing how our education dollars work. Less than 20% of our graduates get degrees in important areas such as math, education and polyscience. I will do everything I can to make sure our money goes into science, technology, education and math.
What’s your position on applying the sales tax to all online/internet merchandise purchases?
I know we don’t collect a lot of it, but you are obligated to pay it now. We can’t treat brick-and-mortar companies any different, though. I think everyone participates, but we should reduce the sales tax. I don’t want to increase the size of government.
The Wall Street protests have spread now to a dozen cities in Florida. What are your thoughts on the protests and protestors?
I’m not sure what they want. But I think people showing up to get involved in political process is a big plus. The world is changing, and people need to decide what they want out of their government.
A $1 billion gaming resort with 1,500 hotel rooms is being proposed by a business group for The Forum at Colonial Boulevard and Interstate 75 in Fort Myers, as well as in Broward and Dade. What is your position going to be on widening casino gambling in Florida?
What I have said all along is I don’t want to do this as a way to balance the budget. I want the decision to be made locally. It will be interesting to see what makes it to my desk.
Are you going to push any legislation again addressing Citizens Property Insurance and Florida’s highly regulated insurance industry?
The problem is no one seems to understand the issue. Citizens is underfunded by $18 billion. We are not going to get it fixed until everyone understands the problem.
Florida courts still have a huge backlog of pending foreclosures. Do you see that as a major impediment in Florida to economic recovery? What plans, if any, do you have to speed up the elimination of that backlog?
The only thing that we can address it is accelerated job growth. In the meantime, we need to look at allowing voluntary non-judicial foreclosures to speed up the process in the next session.
In terms of your 7-7-7 plan, what is it going to take to get to 700,000 jobs in seven years?
We are going to get there. We are adding 10,000 jobs a month right now in the private sector alone. If we do 100,000 this year, we will be on track. But we are losing jobs faster than I thought we would, and we have to understand we are competing for jobs.
In what sectors do you think there are the most opportunities to grow the most jobs the quickest? What conditions need to change to make that happen?
Hospitality and agriculture. In the Panhandle, our bed-tax revenues are up 100%. I also got rid of the visa requirements for Brazilians, which will increase tourism. There’s no reason the agriculture industry won’t have a good year as well and our ports have big opportunities.
What is your economic outlook for Florida for the next six to 12 months? Do you see any regional differences in the state’s economy — where is it strongest, where weakest and what sectors are strongest, which ones are weakest?
Tourism will continue to do well. We just need to do a better job promoting economic development, and we can’t give tax breaks to companies unless we hold them accountable if the returns they promise us don’t pan out. If they don’t provide what they promised, they need to give the money back.
Are you ready this morning to commit to a Republican presidential candidate you will support? When can we expect that?
No. I met with Mitt Romney last week, and I told him I’m not endorsing anyone right now. I do know it will come down to whom the American public truly believes will get jobs going.
You'll be the first sitting governor since Lawton Chiles to be a grandfather. Are there any preparations at the governor's mansion occurring?
Both a bassinet and a lamp have made their way into the mansion, and I’m sure there’s going to be a room for a baby up there. I’m not old enough to be a grandfather, but it will be a lot of fun.