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Column: Scott leads dramatic turnaround in Florida

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

In a bitter and surprisingly personal attack, the Tampa Bay Times published an editorial Sunday condemning virtually every moment of Rick Scott's service as governor.

And that's fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, as I know the governor fully acknowledges.

Rarely, however, have I encountered a set of opinions so far removed from the facts. And although prior to its assault your newspaper offered no opportunity for Scott to share his views, I would like to provide some much-needed context on the challenges Florida overcame in the last three years.

When Scott entered office, Florida was in a tailspin. His predecessor watched the state lose more than 830,000 jobs. More than 1 million Floridians were out of work when Scott took the oath of office. Our unemployment rate had more than tripled, surging to 11.1 percent.

To compound a dire fiscal situation, any semblance of sound stewardship was abandoned with $5.2 billion added to state debt. Massive, billion-dollar budget shortfalls were impeding economic growth.

People were leaving the state, a net loss of population for a state accustomed to steady growth. Sunny Florida became a dark place to do business.

Rick Scott ran on a campaign of creating jobs. He started his first day in Tallahassee totally focused on getting Florida back to work and that remains his aim. Just this week, he opened the 2014 legislative session focused on cutting more taxes and creating more jobs.

Scott has, in fact, already cut taxes two dozen times. That's 24 tax cuts for the families and job creators who drive our economy, and 24 more reasons for businesses nationwide to relocate here.

The results? Today, from Pensacola to Key West, Florida is in the middle of a dramatic turnaround.

You couldn't find room in your 1,400-word attack to mention it, but Florida has gained more than 462,000 jobs in the private sector. Our unemployment rate has dipped from 11.1 percent down to 6.3 percent — tied for the nation's largest improvement in unemployment.

Without raising taxes, we paid down state debt $3.6 billion and paid back $3.5 billion owed to the federal government for unemployment insurance. I hope it's not heartless to remind your newspaper it was Scott's predecessor who ran up those debts and walked away from them.

At the depth of Florida's troubles, it's true, hard choices had to be made. But as things have turned around, we have had more opportunities to invest in what matters the most.

Over the last two years Scott's budget increased funding for K-12 schools by more than $2 billion. Today, Florida has the highest state-based funding for K-12 schools in the history of our state.

Looking at college, in addition to increased funding, Scott has fought every year to hold the line on college tuition while challenging state colleges to offer four-year bachelor degrees for $10,000. Every state college that offers a four-year degree accepted the challenge.

Your editorial called these $10,000 degrees a "gimmick." Comfortably seated around a publishing company's boardroom table, an innovation to make a college degree affordable might look like a gimmick. Huddled around a kitchen table, I believe a $10,000 college degree looks more like a shot at the American dream.

A newspaper that routinely weeps about negative campaigning apparently thought it would elevate Florida's politics to compare Scott to the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. He lacked a heart.

Your newspaper was not satisfied to say Scott was wrong on the issues. Rather, it reported he is "callous" and had not learned the right lessons from adversity he faced growing up.

I have heard Scott freely confess he'll always remember the look on his father's face when the bank showed up to repossess the family car; forever recall his mom working extra jobs just to buy groceries; and clearly remember taking jobs as an elementary school kid to help put food on the table.

It seems to me one lesson Scott learned from hard times was that political promises and manufactured empathy do nothing to create opportunity, nothing to really improve things. Maybe that is what makes him more focused on results than rhetoric. So if that is a bad lesson, maybe the editorial wasn't totally mistaken.

But the Tin Man? Really? Didn't he turn out to be a good guy?

Regardless, from what I have seen working with him, I'm confident that whenever Scott's time in office comes to a close, he will be content if he has continued to grow jobs, improve education, and allowed more families to proudly think of Florida when they say "there's no place like home."

State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign.

Column: Scott leads dramatic turnaround in Florida 03/05/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 5:15pm]

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