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Governor Bush Announces Goals For Special Session

October 11, 2001 
Source: The Executive Office of the Governor

This week I will call a special session of the Florida Legislature to address the current year budget for our state. The terrorist attacks of September 11 have done nothing less than change history – across America, and across Florida.

So far I have focused on the human side of this terrible tragedy, the side we must never forget. In the first few days after the attacks, I attended services in remembrance for our lost countrymen and gave blood – like so many Floridians to help the injured. I spoke with the mother [Carrie Roses] and husband [Lorne Lyles] of Ft. Myers flight attendant Ceecee Lyles, who perished on the united airlines flight in Pennsylvania. So, many families have been changed forever.

Since those first days I’ve been an advocate for our economy and our people, doing what I can to help jump-start our economy and get Florida back on its feet. I’ve met with industry leaders and traveled north to encourage tourists to once again visit our beautiful state. I’ve also met with military personnel, as many of them prepare to put their lives at risk to preserve the freedoms we hold so dear.

But now, it is time to address our state budget here in Florida. We have a constitutional duty to do so. We are experiencing and will continue to experience a significant loss of revenue due to the precipitous drop in tourism and overall economic activity similar to what is taking place in every state capital across our country.

We all know that Florida was experiencing a slowdown in our growth before September 11. Even though we were leading the nation in job growth, it was a serious issue and – working together with the legislature – we were prepared to take action appropriately.

But September 11 changed everything. Our previous projected revenue shortfalls were a drop in the bucket compared to what we must face now. None of us in Tallahassee could have foreseen this circumstance. Florida is uniquely positioned as the #1 tourist destination in the world, and temporarily we are uniquely impacted as a result of the declaration of war on our freedom in this country.

I see everywhere, however, that Floridians are responding with extraordinary courage, patience, and patriotism. Thomas Paine wrote about "the summer soldier" during the Revolutionary War, warning those encamped at Valley Forge that though "these are the times that try men’s souls," those who make the sacrifices and stay true during the tough times are America’s true patriots. From the Miami search and rescue teams who went up to New York to Floridians everywhere flying flags outside their homes, I see no summer soldiers. Our people are showing us every day what we need to do: show unity and accept sacrifice.

How shall we in Tallahassee show unity and accept sacrifice? By balancing a budget thrown out of whack by terrorism. None of us asked for this challenge, but we are up to it.

Of course, the simplest way to do this would be an across-the-board cut for every state program. But I don’t think that’s a good idea. Cutting $1.5 billion out of our budget for example – a 7.5 percent cut in general revenue – would mean $550 million less for Florida’s public schools, and that doesn’t make much sense. We fund programs in the first place based on Florida’s priorities; we should reduce funding when necessary in the same principal way.

And that’s what I aim to do today: to suggest principles that will guide my office and the legislature as we cut the budget. The House and Senate leadership may each wish to articulate different principles, and that’s fine. But I think we have to show leadership up front in laying out a vision, or we’ll just be cutting haphazardly with no eye toward an agreed-upon goal.

Setting Ground Rules will de-politicize this process, and make painful cuts more palatable because they will be motivated principles. If the choice is between philosophy and feeding frenzy, then I choose philosophy.

Here are the seven principles, which I suggest should guide us during a special session.

Principle One: We must agree on the size of the new budget.

The Governor has asked that the revenue estimating conference meet on October 15 to determine the best estimation of the shortfall so that policy makers can respond.

Principle Two: Florida’s highest priorities should be protected.

The following are three examples of what the Governor believes should be priorities:

1) In education, it means prioritizing direct classroom instruction for our children. Flexibility should be given to the universities, community colleges and school districts as long as direct classroom instruction is protected.

2) In protecting Florida’s most frail and vulnerable citizens, we should continue to help people already receiving services, such as those in developmentally disabled programs; those in the child welfare system; those in the kid care program; and those individuals in community care for the elderly.

3) In public safety, we will still insist that offenders serve 85% of their sentences

Principle Three: We should be wary of obligating the state to new government programs that we temporarily cannot afford. New programs yet to be implemented, should be first in line for cuts.

Principle Four: We should not increase taxes. We cannot make Tallahassee’s budget better by making every other Floridian’s budget worse.

Principle Five: We must maximize management efficiencies in lieu of eliminating critical programs. Today, the Governor directed all agency heads and senior management who earn over $90,000 to forego their pay raise this year. He also challenged the legislature, judiciary and university system to do the same.

Principle Six: There needs to be a balance between using our strong reserves and making the difficult recurring cuts in proposed expenditures.

Principle Seven: Shared sacrifice must guide us politically through this difficult process. Tallahassee’s political priorities must take a back seat to the larger concerns of Florida’s priorities and the needs of our people.

Of course, WE MUST MAKE CUTS IN GOVERNMENT NOT ONLY TO BALANCE THE BUDGET BUT ALSO TO FUND two new priorities central to the health and welfare of our state.

First, we must make SECURITY IMPROVEMENTS here in Florida in response to the new threats in the world. Second, we must enact a STIMULUS PACKAGE FOR FLORIDA’S ECONOMY, because WITHOUT A STRONG ECONOMY, FLORIDA CAN’T FUND ANYTHING.

These suggestions will be submitted to the legislative budget commission or in proposed legislation, which could be part of the special session. I will be outlining my thoughts on both security and economic stimulus in the next few days to allow for the legislature to respond to the great challenges that lie ahead. We will do so in complete coordination with the leadership, both majority and minority leaders, of the house and senate.

The resulting new budget for the fiscal year, while pared to deal with new realities, will still look somewhat like the one we already have. Our revenues and our spending will still be up by 3 percent, which is more than Florida’s population growth. Our reserves will still be in very good shape, with over $2 billion available for future contingencies.

We must contrast our current situation with that which existed in 1991, then, Florida faced a similar slowdown of our economy plus a war to protect our freedom. The cuts required then in percentage terms were much greater than any projection contemplated now, and we didn’t have close to the current level of reserves, less than a quarter of a billion dollars.

After three acrimonious administrative commission meetings – then comprised of our elected cabinet – and one special session, an agreement was reached to balance the budget. Major cuts in programs for the needy and public education were a steep price.

We have a chance to take advantage of the reserves that we have built up, to challenge our government to be more efficient, and to make common sense cuts, such as in programs that have not been implemented.

I believe we can demonstrate that the spirit of our state and of our country following that terrible September day is to address better the issues that face us than we did a decade ago.

None of us asked or could have ANTICIPATED this situation. But we can address it now either by showing leadership or by abdicating it, in a partisan way or by drawing upon the new national spirit of bipartisan patriotism.

Florida’s future is bright. We must never lose sight of that in any context. Our job is simply to get us to that future as quickly as possible. And I look forward to working with the legislature in doing just that.