WEST PALM BEACH -- Gov. Rick Scott sought to build public support for his budget priorities Monday, pressing for teacher raises and a cut to manufacturing equipment sales taxes as keys to boosting the economy.
Addressing a large gathering of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, the Republican governor also called Everglades restoration efforts vital, in part to maintain a clean water source for a growing population. He called to the stage numerous leaders in Everglades cleanup projects, including prominent environmentalists.
Scott's $74.2 budget proposal includes a 6 percent hike in spending, including restoring money for some environmental efforts such as the Florida Forever land-buying program. Scott said such a move was only possible because of frugality earlier in his term.
"We made the tough choices two years ago, we lived within our means, we balanced the budget, we paid down debt," he said, "and our economy has come back."
Scott attempted to link all of his budget proposals to the economy, saying strong schools, a clean environment and happy businesses were key ingredients for luring more jobs to the state.
But lawmakers from both parties have expressed some reservations about Scott's proposed budget. The House budget chief, Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, questioned the rationale of a $2,500 pay raise for teachers and a one-time bonus for state workers, saying Scott was also proposing to give a third of state employees merit raises. Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has said Scott's budget amounts to "a taxpayer-financed downpayment on courting votes for 2014."
In questions from the audience and, later, from the media, Scott mostly steered clear of specifics on other issues.
Asked about immigration, he said he supported reform, but didn't comment on various legislative proposals. Asked about gun control, he said he was a gun owner and Second Amendment supporter, but didn't say whether he opposed an assault-weapons ban. Asked about proposals targeting texting while driving, he called the topic important, but did not take a position on legislation. Scott even sidestepped an audience question on which of Florida's college football teams he rooted for, refusing to pick a favorite.
As for his campaign promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years, Scott was unwavering in saying he was "absolutely" on track to meet his goal.