Rick Scott is the Republican governor of Florida. A successful businessman before entering politics, Mr. Scott and his wife Ann started out owning two Kansas City doughnut shops, which his mother ran. He later founded Columbia Hospital Corporation, which in 10 years grew to become the seventh-largest employer in America with over 285,000 workers at more than 1,000 hospitals, surgery centers and home-health outlets. You can find out more about Gov. Scott’s policies at: www.flgov.com.
Decker: There is a lot of talk by Washington officials about creating jobs, which leads to government action to manipulate business activity one way or another. Most business leaders tell me they would rather government just stay out of the way, and they look to set up in states that have a hands-off approach to the private sector. What have you done in Florida to make the state attractive to investment, and how can the Sunshine State be a model for the federal government in this way?
Scott: My goal is to make people immediately associate Florida with jobs and opportunities for personal success. So, during my first year in office, I eliminated over 1,000 unnecessary government rules and regulations - a process that is continuing today. I also eliminated the business income tax for nearly half of the businesses required to pay it, starting first with the smallest businesses and working my way to eliminate it for all businesses. And you know what? It’s working. Last year, Florida gained 141,500 private-sector jobs and our unemployment rate dropped by 2.1 percentage points - the third-highest job growth of any state in the nation and the second-largest unemployment drop. So we are starting to see some significant improvement.
Long before Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 Plan,” I campaigned back in 2010 on what I called my “7-7-7 Plan” - seven steps to help businesses create 700,000 jobs in seven years. The centerpiece of that plan is getting government out of the way so that the private sector can thrive since they are the ones who create jobs. Clearly, these steps are working. I make sure businesses around the world know it when I call on them every day to recruit their business in Florida. How can they argue with a state that has the best beaches, the nicest weather and no income tax? The federal government and other states would be wise to follow in our footsteps, but they are going to have a tough time competing with Florida.
Decker: There are a lot of competing tax plans out there in this election year. What’s your agenda for tax relief for Floridians, and do you have a preference for what tax reform should look like at the federal level?
Scott: With the world’s second-highest tax rate, the United States government should lower taxes so that more companies want to do business here and have more money to hire people. Tax exemptions for small businesses are especially critical for job growth since approximately 56 percent of U.S. companies employ fewer than 5 people. I’ve applied this concept in Florida and we’ve made significant progress lowering taxes and, in turn, creating jobs.
Last year, we eliminated the business income tax for nearly half of the small businesses required to pay it. We also have a number of tax-reform measures that the Florida legislature has already signed off on for this year, including increasing the business income-tax exemption for an additional 25 percent of the businesses that pay it and providing tax incentives for companies creating manufacturing jobs. I plan to continue lowering taxes and completely phase out the business income tax in Florida during my tenure as governor.
Decker: Sustained unemployment is at levels not seen in decades, and record numbers of Americans are on food stamps. Too often, the government safety net reinforces a cycle of dependency. States are a testing ground for new reform policies. What’s your plan for welfare reform in your state, and how does your drug-testing law fit into this?
Scott: The solution is jobs. The more private-sector jobs we create in Florida, the more opportunities Floridians will have to get a job and reduce their dependency on safety-net programs. While I recognize there are critical safety nets, I also believe it is my duty as governor to ensure every Floridian has the opportunity to find work and provide for themselves and their families. The welfare drug-testing law that was also passed in Florida last year ensures that money intended to benefit children is actually going to children in need and not parents who are using drugs.
Decker: What do you think are the most important steps government can take to get America back on the right track?
Scott: Get government out of the way of innovation and economic growth, because it is business and the free market that create jobs, not government. Make job creation the No. 1 priority like we have done in Florida by lowering taxes, reducing the size and scope of government, cutting down on frivolous lawsuits and luring companies from around the world to do business here. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” More jobs in Florida means more people moving here, which means more demand for housing, which fixes the mortgage problem, too. That’s why making Florida the No. 1 state for job creation is my No. 1 priority.
Decker: You chose not to endorse any candidate before your state’s primary but have spoken out favorably about Mitt Romney. Of the Republicans in the race, do you think he has the best shot at beating Barack Obama in November?
Scott: I chose to let the Florida voters decide on the candidate they thought had the best blueprint for job creation. I believe the primary factors motivating Florida voters were jobs and who would be the best federal partner for Florida in our effort to create jobs. We need someone in the White House who will share the same focus as I do on getting people back to work; someone who will help us continue to build on the 141,500 private-sector jobs created in this state since I was elected governor and who will help our unemployment rate continue to decline. While I can’t speculate who the eventual nominee will be, I will pledge to support the candidate who is chosen to be the Republican standard-bearer in November.