TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With a possible run for U.S. Senate looming in the coming months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will enter his final legislative session with a modest wish list that could aid him on the campaign trail.
The Republican governor will lay out his priorities during his last State of the State speech on Tuesday – and some of it will echo Scott’s previous years where he called on for tax cuts and other steps that he says will improve the state’s economy.
But during his seven years in office, Scott has had an up-and-down relationship with the GOP-controlled Legislature that resulted in many of his priorities either being ignored or watered down.
Despite that track record, Scott remains “optimistic” that he will be able to win approval this year for an agenda that includes spending increases for schools and environmental programs as well as legislation that would place a limit on opioid prescriptions written by doctors.
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“I am going to do what I believe in so I am going to fight for what I believe in,” Scott said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m optimistic the Legislature is going to be supportive.”
Some Democrats have assailed Scott over his final set of budget recommendations, suggesting that his push this year to set aside money for land-buying programs such as Florida Forever amount to an election-year turnaround intended to fool voters. The state’s tight finances, meanwhile, could make it difficult for Republicans to give all of Scott’s spending requests.
Scott, a former health care executive and multimillionaire, was not supported by the Republican establishment when he was first elected in 2010 amid a tea party wave across the country. He is leaving office in early 2019 due to term limits and is considered likely to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
Last year, Scott clashed with House Republicans who sought to severely cut or eliminate incentives used to attract businesses to the state and money used on tourism marketing campaigns. At one point, Scott got agitated that he used his own political committee to pay for television ads criticizing GOP legislators.
Eventually, the governor brokered a compromise and in recent months, Republican legislators have heaped praise on Scott, including how he responded during Hurricane Irma.
Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said that it be wrong, however, to assume that legislators will help Scott just to assist him in his next campaign.
“I think that we should focus on our policies that benefit Floridians and is the right thing to do,” said Negron, who had one of his top priorities, a bill to permanently boost financial aid to top performing students, vetoed by the governor last year. “We can turn our attention to campaigns once session has completed.”
Among the items that Scott wants:
— A measure that would bar state agencies from doing business with the government of Venezuela. Scott and other Florida politicians including Nelson have been sharply critical of President Nicolas Maduro.
— A constitutional amendment placed on the 2018 ballot that would require the Florida Legislature to pass any future tax hikes with a two-thirds vote. Sixty percent of voters would have to vote yes for the measure to pass.
— About $180 million worth of cuts in taxes and fees, with all of it geared directly to residents instead of businesses through sales tax holidays where taxes would be waived on school clothes and hurricane supplies.
— Permanent requirements that would mandate that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have backup power generators capable of heating and cooling homes for up to four days.