Good morning President Negron, Speaker Corcoran, and members of the Florida Legislature. Welcome Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. I would also like to welcome Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Thank you for your many years of service to the state. CFO, I have really enjoyed working with you and getting to know you and your family. Chief Justice Labarga and members of the Florida Supreme Court. In December, I had the great honor to appoint the newest member of the Supreme Court, Justice Alan Lawson.
I would like to recognize my amazing wife, Ann. I am so proud of the mother and grandmother she is and I love watching how passionate she is about visiting Florida schools and reading to students. I love you, Ann!
Over the coming weeks, we will have many debates over bills and policies, but what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us -- and what unites us is the resiliency of our great state. After every challenge, every heartbreak and every tragedy, Florida comes back stronger and better any time we are knocked down.
Since I last stood here to address you, Florida has endured many heartbreaks. I have prayed for families around our state who have been impacted by tragedy, and my own heart has been broken for their losses. Our state has been rocked by the gruesome terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, in Orlando. We endured two hurricanes, fought against the rapid spread of the Zika virus, and were devastated by the deadly Fort Lauderdale airport shooting.
While heartbreaking, these tragedies have given me a new perspective. I am now more convinced than ever that the future of our state is even greater than our past accomplishments and that we must be even more resolved to build a society where any child, no matter where they are from, has the opportunity to live their dreams.
And, if there is one thing you remember from this speech today, I hope it is this: Florida is a state full of fighters, and I will never stop fighting for our families. Floridians are strong. Floridians are selfless. Floridians are fighters.
I've had the opportunity to meet so many great Floridians during my time as governor. But, I've been forever changed by all of the incredible people I have met this past year during some of our state’s most challenging times. Nothing could have prepared me for the horror we saw on June 12, 2016, when a terrorist inspired by ISIS stormed into Pulse and senselessly killed 49 innocent people. This was a terrorist attack and 49 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and spouses were murdered.
The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children. I remember sitting with one mom who recounted her son's final 48 hours on earth and how he died a hero because he was trying to save a friend’s life. I met with an injured victim whose TV was turned off in his hospital room. His family needed to wait to tell him that his partner had been killed and did not want him to find out from the news and I went to wakes and funerals to mourn with families as they said their final good-byes. The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.
Amid the horror and terror of that night, we also saw what bravery and heroism looks like. We saw so many first responders rush to the scene. First responders like SWAT team member Officer Michael Napolitano with the Orlando Police Department. Officer Napolitano, please stand.
Without fear or hesitation, Officer Napolitano and his fellow SWAT members confronted the terrorist and during the stand-off, his Kevlar helmet stopped a bullet which saved his life. Officer Napolitano, we are proud to call you a Floridian. Thank you for your courage to serve in the face of evil, and thank you for fighting for Florida families.
I would like to also welcome Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. Both helped respond to the terrorist attack at Pulse. Chief Mina and Sheriff Demings, you and your team of brave law enforcement officers have kept families safe and secure. On behalf of all Florida families, please tell your officers and deputies that we are proud of them and job well done!
In order to keep fighting to support public safety in our state, we have to ensure Florida's law enforcement officers have the resources they need to curb senseless violence and crime. That is why I have recommended nearly $6 million for counterterrorism efforts this year. I wake up every day fighting for Florida because I want to make it a better place for my grandchildren. In fact, Ann and I just found out that our daughter Allison and her husband Pierre will be welcoming twins later this year! This will make Ann and me proud grandparents to six wonderful grandchildren! When I started this job, Ann and I didn't have any grandkids. Now, we will have six. Certainly, my daughters were listening when I said, "Let's get to work!"
We have worked so hard to grow jobs and together, we have been able to implement policies that have turned our economy around for our future generations. But, we cannot stop now! Florida's businesses have created over 1.26 million private-sector jobs since I was elected, including more than 237,000 new jobs last year alone. And, our job growth rate is growing more than twice as fast as the national rate.
Our economy is booming and I am glad that America elected my friend, Donald Trump, a businessman, outsider like myself, as president who is focused on growing the national economy. Florida is on the verge of becoming the job creation capital of the world! And, the fight for jobs continues, and that means we have to keep cutting taxes! Together, we have cut taxes 55 times, saving families $6.5 billion, but we must do more. This year, I am fighting to cut taxes by $618 million to cut costs for small businesses, students, veterans, teachers and families.
Our "Fighting for Florida's Future" tax cut package will boost our economy and encourage businesses of all sizes to create jobs and build opportunities for generations of Floridians. Let’s remember, when jobs are created, it helps the poorest, most disadvantaged families who need a job the most. Families just like mine when I was growing up.
One of the taxes we are fighting to cut is the commercial lease tax, which unfairly targets small businesses. Small businesses like Hot Pandeyuca in Miami. David Alfandary opened his small business that specializes in making traditional Colombian baked goods when he first arrived in Miami from Colombia in 1998. The factory started with only three employees and has grown to employ 30 people. However, all three of his locations have a commercial lease. David has said that he is very proud to grow his business in Florida, and if we cut this unfair tax, he could grow his business even more.
Florida is now the only state in the nation to tax commercial leases. Our "Fighting for Florida's Future" tax cut package will begin to repeal this unfair tax to help small businesses like Hot Pandeyuca. David, you are a great example of the many people living the American Dream right here in Florida. Thank you for fighting to create jobs for future generations.
Even more important than continuing to cut taxes in our state is that we prevent against unfair tax increases in the future so our progress is not undone. My goal before I leave office is that we work together on a solution to make it harder for any future legislature -- even one not as conservative as we have here today -- to raise taxes.
This year, we also have the privilege to fight for those who have served our country. I am proud to be a Navy veteran and I know that many of you in the Florida Legislature and in the audience also proudly served our nation. Will every veteran and active service member here please stand? Thank you for choosing to serve our nation.
I want to make sure that Florida is the most military and veteran friendly state in the nation and our Budget proposes $102 million to support active military, veterans and their families. And, I am proposing a three-day sales tax holiday for our veterans and active service members.
I would like to introduce you to one of Florida's brave veterans who would benefit from this sales tax holiday -- Master Sgt. George Vera from Tampa. Master Sgt. Vera joined the Army in 1995. Two years ago, suicide bombers invaded his base and detonated an IED. During the explosion, he fought to pull his fellow soldiers away from harm, but unfortunately suffered severe injuries after being shot in the back. Master Sgt. Vera endured a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed. He also suffered a brain injury and lost some of his vital organs. In 2015, he was awarded the Purple Heart for his heroic actions. Master Sgt. Vera, thank you for your service to our great state. You are an inspiration.
I am excited to announce that Master Sgt. Vera, his wife, Angela, and their daughter, Isabella, will soon receive a mortgage free home from Building Homes for Heroes. Since I have taken office, I am proud that we have been able to invest more than $4 million into Building Homes for Heroes and I am proposing $1 million for this important program this year.
We have to do more than just cut taxes to ensure we have a strong economy for the future. We cannot be shortsighted and think we are immune from another national recession in years ahead. We have to keep diversifying our economy and investing in programs that actually help businesses grow jobs here in Florida.
Let me be very direct about this subject. I've been on the other side. I've run small and large businesses. I've been the person who looks at locations, looks at states and compares them, and decides where to expand, where to grow business, where to create jobs. I know exactly how businesses operate, because I've done it. For our state to simply say we are not going to compete with other states, we are not going to make it easier to incentivize job creators to grow in Florida, that's just a big mistake for our state and for our families. Incentivizing businesses to grow and create more and better jobs is not welfare. And let's be very clear here -- EFI does not provide any funding until jobs are created and capital is invested.
I know what it's like to be poor. I have lived in poverty. I watched my parents struggle to put food on the table. When most kids were playing Little League or riding bikes, I was working. I had no other choice but to start working when I turned seven. I went from delivering papers to opening a small business so my mom could have a job to running the nation's largest health care company that employed hundreds of thousands of individuals. I've had to worry about making pay roll and I've signed the front of pay checks.
It's easy to throw out catch phrases like "picking winners and losers" and "corporate welfare." By the way, I don't like either of those things. I doubt anyone in this chamber does. But that's not what we are doing. We are competing with 49 other states and hundreds of countries for jobs. When we bring new jobs to Florida, there are only winners. When we help existing Florida companies grow, there are only winners. When we can help an idea become a business that employs people, there are only winners.
I will admit that it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed to understand this. If you never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency here. I will just leave it like this: I am fighting for our state's job programs because I am fighting for the families just like mine growing up.
Enterprise Florida has been responsible for over 900 projects since I have been governor, including helping businesses like Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Hertz add thousands of high wage jobs in Florida. And, we can easily show a great return on the investment of families’ tax dollars because jobs are being created by more companies moving to our state. When we announced Hertz was moving their corporate headquarters to Florida from New Jersey in 2013 and adding 700 new high-wage jobs, it was the first major relocation by a Fortune 500 company while I have been Governor.
I would like to introduce you to Nick Cid, a Florida native who got a job at Hertz because Enterprise Florida helped relocate the company to our great state. Nick, we are glad you and your family are able to live your dreams in Florida! I want to thank many of you here today who joined me at the Hertz announcement in Southwest Florida including Senator Benacquisto, Leader Rodrigues, Representative Caldwell, Representative Eagle, and Representative Fitzenhagen.
And soon after Hertz moved to Bonita Springs, Herc Rentals decided to move their headquarters to Florida from New Jersey. Herc Rentals has already created over 300 jobs for families in Florida. This is how growing an economy works. You build an environment for companies to be successful and others will join.
I want to be very clear in acknowledging that both Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida have made mistakes along with their many successes over the years. And I do not fault anyone for pointing out those mistakes. Any time we can eliminate government waste we should do it. But, just like we would do in the business world, we have made changes at both agencies so the organizations can be more efficient and transparent. Any CEO or business owner will tell you that mistakes are made sometimes. But, you don't just give up and shut down and take your ball and go home. You figure out what the problem is and fix it. Let's remember, we are talking about people’s jobs and their ability to provide for their family.
Tourism is one of our state's top sources of revenue, and if that declines, we will set our state on a course for either tax increases or cuts in services. These are the facts. Getting rid of Visit Florida and ending advertising for tourism doesn’t make any sense in the real world. Successful companies know how to market themselves and they don't stop advertising when business is good. Coca-Cola and Chic Fil A didn’t stop running ads when they reached the top of their industry. Think about it for a minute. Do we really have to argue about how important tourism is to our economy? And do we really need a debate about whether marketing and advertising works?
Visit Florida has been responsible for recruiting record numbers of visitors -- including a record of nearly 113 million last year! Will Florida still have tourists if we stop advertising? Sure. But we will have less. And that means less jobs, less tax revenues, and less of everything. When it comes to jobs, I’m for more, not less. Every 76 tourists support one Florida job, and tourism helps thousands of small businesses that rely on visitors. One of these small businesses is Sage Paddle Company started by Sage Offutt. Sage, please stand.
Sage is 14 years old and started her business when she was just 11 after moving to Navarre Beach. Like so many Floridians, Sage loves our beaches and began paddle boarding. But, she quickly saw a need. There were not many places that rented and delivered the boards in her area. So, like any young entrepreneur, she purchased six boards and opened up her business! Today, she has a fleet of 50 boards and 12 kayaks. Sage, young entrepreneurs like you are the future of our state and we will fight for Visit Florida so we can keep helping small businesses like yours.
I have told you why we can’t stop now in our fight for jobs, but we also can't stop our fight to improve our education system. I am proud that this year that we are able to once again invest historic amounts of funding in K-12 education, state colleges and universities in our budget. We are also fighting to keep higher education affordable by holding the line on tuition for the fourth year in a row, freezing all fees at our state colleges and universities, and capping tuition at our state colleges.
We are also continuing to make historic strides to protect Florida's lands and ensure that the future of our state's pristine environment is beautiful for generations to come. Our budget invests nearly $4 billion in our environment, with record funding once again for our springs and funding for the new Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Clean-Up Initiative.
We are making important investments in public safety, our transportation infrastructure, and investing in our state’s ability to combat the Zika virus. We are also making investments in our states response to disasters. In the past year, we have experienced two hurricanes -- something we haven't experienced in over a decade. This year, I am proposing a nine-day disaster preparedness sales tax holiday so we can make it easier and more affordable for families to prepare before next hurricane season.
And we are making important investments to help people with unique abilities, including $3.3 million in new funding to provide employment services to more than 2,500 individuals with disabilities who are ready to work. There are so many wonderful Florida employers that provide great jobs to people with unique abilities -- including HABCO Manufacturing in Boca Raton. HABCO employs 200 Floridians, which include 150 employees with unique abilities. One of HABCO's leaders is with us today – Linda Cooke. Linda worked to turn HABCO into a multi-million-dollar manufacturing facility so people with unique abilities had the opportunity to get job training and a great career. Linda, thank you for your commitment to helping so many in your community.
The great news is Florida has all the resources we need to make these important investments along with cutting taxes: Since 2011, our state's economy has grown by 22 percent and our available revenues exceed current expenses by $2.8 billion. Think about that. We have $2.8 billion available while still providing $5 billion in reserves. We have the funds to fight for Florida’s future while controlling spending to ensure we get the best return on the investment of our citizen's hard-earned tax money.
Let me leave you with this idea -- we've made a lot of progress here in Florida, but we cannot be happy just staying put. Let's paint the picture of what we want Florida to look like in the future, and let's make that future happen. Together, let's picture Florida as the model for success in the most prosperous country in the world. Together, let's picture a Florida where instead of the old, closed government economy in Washington, we have a new, innovative and open economy. Together, let's picture a Florida where instead of an old, closed education system, we have a new and open system where we provide choices and opportunities to every kid regardless of income or zip code. And together, let's picture a Florida where every single person who wants to work has an opportunity to get a great job. We are getting closer to painting this picture; let’s keep fighting to make it a reality.
Thank you. God bless our great state.