The one gloomy note in the governor's address was the news that Florida's proposed Medicaid budget is more than $700 million short for this year and next. Jeb Bush blames skyrocketing Medicaid costs, and he is asking lawmakers to work with their Washington counterparts to fix the broken system.
He told a joint session of the House and Senate that Florida is stronger than ever. He says students of all races and backgrounds have made dramatic improvement in reading and test scores over the past year, and Florida leads the nation in job growth.
"More people are working in the sunshine state today, and they're keeping more of their hard-earned money. Since 1998, we have provided more than $8 billion in tax relief to the people we serve."
The governor wants lawmakers to provide more relief this year in the form of another $140 million in tax cuts.
On the education front, he unveiled a new reading initiative for middle schools.
State lawmakers kicked off the 2004 legislative session by honoring and thanking Florida's military men and women. The ceremonial opening day included the presentation of the colors by several Florida soldiers and the acknowledgment of the sacrifice made by so many.
State Rep. Carey Baker returned from serving his country just four weeks ago after spending the entire last year supporting the Iraqi war effort. He paid tribute to the Florida soldiers who did not make it home.
"If they could be here today, I would say Corporal Travis Rivero, Specialist Jeffrey Wershow, Specialist Robert Wise, Major Roy Wood, stand up and show everybody what a true patriot looks like. Stand up and show everyone what a citizen soldier is made of. These men fought for the very reason we're in this building: for safety, for freedom and for the opportunity for democracy. They also died for safety, for freedom and for the opportunity for democracy, but, they did not die in vain."
About 2,000 National Guard soldiers returned to Florida over the past month, but another 1,000 soldiers are now heading overseas.