TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Scott is calling his first legislative session a success, pointing at tax cuts, changes to the Medicaid program, education bills, a measure requiring state employees to pay into their pensions and more as victories that will make Florida more attractive for businesses.
He by no means got everything he wanted out of the session that ended early Saturday - most notably, corporate tax cuts weren't as large as he wanted and he wasn't able to follow through on a campaign promise to get tougher on illegal immigrants - but Scott said he was happy with the compromises that were made.
"You look at the positive. We started phasing out the business tax, we got property tax cuts, we reduced the size of government, the cost of government, we're modernizing the pension plan, we got a big success in education, we got lots of reform - Medicaid reform," Scott said. "That's a lot of good stuff."
Scott, who has never before held elected office, also learned that being governor isn't a matter of telling lawmakers what to do, even if the House and Senate are dominated by Republicans.
"He came in with no experience in public service and I think he's learning something every single day," said former House Speaker Larry Cretul. "He came in with a very strong CEO-type of approach to his role as the governor and I think he also now has come to realize others are elected as well. You've got the House and Senate, a total of 160 members, that also have some very strong opinions and ideas."
Scott campaigned on an agenda of creating jobs by making Florida more business-friendly. He wanted $458 million in corporate income tax cuts by lowering the tax rate from 5.5 percent to 3 percent. Lawmakers instead raised the exemption from $5,000 to $25,000, which would save each company $1,100 for a total of $30 million in cuts. He also wanted state workers to contribute 5 percent of their salary toward their pension. Lawmakers approved a 3 percent contribution.
Scott is also pleased the Legislature passed a bill that creates a merit pay system for teachers and does away with tenure for new teachers. A voucher program was expanded, as was virtual learning.
"If we just keep doing this, we will be the model for the country in education," Scott said. "Kids are going to be excited about the changes we're making and parents are (too)."
And while Scott hasn't publicly made social issues part of his agenda, he supports pro-gun laws passed this year as well as abortion laws that will require women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion and will make it more difficult for minors to get an abortion without telling their parents.
"We pretty much we were involved in everything. We spent every day going through all the bills and what was happening," Scott said. "Everything isn't exactly our way, but we let people know what we thought about things."
Democrats criticized Scott's handling of the session, saying he initially didn't respect that the Legislature has an equal say in laws that are passed. They also questioned how much of a success it was for Scott as opposed to the Republican Legislature doing what it would have done anyway.
"He got a lot of what he wanted but I wouldn't give him or his administration credit for it. If Bill McCollum was governor, they might have done almost everything the exact same way," said Democratic House Leader Ron Saunders, referring to the former attorney general who lost the GOP primary to Scott last year. "He just happened to be the Republican governor."
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said while Scott showed progress in working with the lawmakers, it wasn't enough.
"He approached this session as, 'Legislators, this is what I want. Go do it,'" Williams said. "Hopefully he now has a crash course in Legislature 101 and Policy-Making 101 and hopefully we can be better partners next year."
Rep. Chris Dorworth, who is in line to become House speaker in 2014, said Scott was every effective at advancing his agenda and was a good negotiator.
"The governor's job is to use the bully pulpit to advance his or her vision for the state. Gov. Scott has done a very good job of advancing his vision of the state. We all walk away from here with some unfinished business every session and I suspect the governor has some unfinished business," said Dorworth, R-Lake Mary. "You show me a member of the executive branch who gets 100 percent of what they want and I'll show you a totalitarian regime."
Scott said he never tried to just force things through and he recognized the Legislature is an equal branch of government.
"I remember civics class - the three branches. So my job was to make sure I put my agenda out on the table and then work with the Legislature and we did that," Scott said. "We're clearly respectful. My approach to life is you respect other people. You try to be persuasive of what you believe and why it makes sense and why it's in that person's best interest."
And he's already thinking about next year's session and how he can build on what was passed and get done what he couldn't this year.
"I think about where I'm going every day. I have my plan and I just keep working my plan every day. I get more done that way."