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OPENING DAY ADDRESS 2002

January 22, 2002
The Florida House of Representatives

Today we open the hundred-and-fourth regular session of the Florida Legislature, and the fifth session of the Legislature elected in November 2000. 

Personal Notes:  Introductions of SISTERS, MOM, DAD, UNCLE ED, and ELLEN.  Tommy passed with straight A's! Sean at 3 years old, the news is not so good.  Don't know if "expelled" from Montessori School is correct technical term.  Woman called and said 6 of us, and 26 children.  We can watch Sean, we can watch the other 25, but we can't do both!

 Later this session, we hope to unveil a portrait of the first Speaker from Oviedo in 114 years.  I hope some of you will take time from your day to come see Tom Feeney hanged in public!

I.  History and Challenges

As I look at the portraits of all of the Speakers who have preceded me through those hundred-plus regular sessions and countless special sessions, I wonder whether any of those speakers and any of those earlier Legislatures have had as many unique and historical opportunities as we have had since November 2000.

We entered the 2000 election knowing that we would have a House with a majority of freshman members.  Little did we know that was simply where the challenges would begin.

We met the challenge of enabling sixty-three new members, now sixty-four with the election of Representative Evers, to hit the ground running. We made sure that our freshmen would be full participants in the process.  I am more confident than ever that we have a new generation of great Florida leaders.

We had barely gotten ourselves organized when Tallahassee became the site of worldwide round-the-clock media attention. It seemed that every reporter and lawyer in the free world descended upon us.  This House had a historic and unprecedented role in the Election 2000 controversy. And the conduct of this House and each of its members showed the world that a democratic deliberative process could be conducted with fairness, decorum and dignity, even when the highest office in the land was at stake.

Our election reform package won bipartisan support and is now heralded by leaders in both parties as a national model.

So we come into the 2002 session with a legacy to uphold: we have been an example of the democratic process at its best. I'm confident we will uphold that legacy as we face this year's challenges.

We once again face the challenge of crafting a budget that meets the state's needs in challenging economic times without increasing the tax burden on Florida's families and businesses.

We face the challenge of reorganizing the executive branch of government to meet the requirements of a constitutional amendment that abolished four Cabinet offices-Comptroller, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Education Commissioner, and that created one new office-State Chief Financial Officer.

And we face the fascinating challenge, as we do once every decade, of drawing new district lines for Congress, for the Senate, and for this House. The pessimists will tell you that reapportionment will consume everything else, that reapportionment makes everything personal, and that nothing substantive will be done on the merits.

The pessimists are wrong, as they always are. This is a principle-driven House, not a personality-driven House. We rededicated ourselves to a tradition, begun by Speaker Dan Webster that serves all of the people by placing principle before personality. And being principle-driven, we will have enormous successes this year.

As we enter the redistricting process a bit of practical advise from Teddy Roosevelt:  "The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency."

II.  Specific Accomplishments

Look at how much we've accomplished so far:

Security task force.  On September 11th last fall an international group of Hitlerian style thugs changed our world.  For the first time since the U.S. Capitol was burned down in 1812, the continental mainland of the United States was subject to foreign attack.  Like other states, Florida, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, has been completely dependant on the Federal Government to protect us from foreign threats.  But all Floridians are now volunteers in the first war of the new millennium, called by President Bush, "Operation Freedom".  Representatives Goodlette and Gelber are leading a committee to comprehensively review Florida's laws and rules to suggest improvements in our system to deter and punish terrorist activity.

But, we are in no rush to discard precious freedoms endowed upon us, as Jefferson says, "by our creator".  Security without freedom is totalitarianism; individual license without security is chaos and anarchy.    As Florida joins the nation in combating evil here and abroad, we do so in the spirit of the firefighters and police officers in New York City at ground zero, and with the unwavering commitment demonstrated by the private citizens who led American counter attacks.  As Todd Beamer said to his fellow heroes aboard United Airlines Flight 93 somewhere over Pennsylvania on September 11th, "Are you guys ready?  Let's Roll."

 Special Session C. During the second special session to adjust Florida's budget to the new economic reality following the events of September 11, the House led the way on providing strong fiscal management to reduce excess spending while still protecting core services. Thanks to your leadership, we were able to reduce our base budget by roughly $1.3 billion while, at the same time, spending for education increased over the previous fiscal year and our most vulnerable citizens were provided with the services they need. Even after we made the necessary budgetary adjustments, Florida still increased spending on public education over the previous fiscal year by $676 million. Overall, education spending now comprises 52.5% of Florida's budget. 

III.  Principles

This Legislature has accomplished so much, with solid work from both sides of the political aisle, because of our principles.

Today we're delivering to each member's office a framed poster describing the five principles that have guided the House since 1996. Principles matter now more than ever.

These are the principles we must advance together:

Less Government:

  • Over the last three years, we have reduced the number of state workers by 10,000 without a reduction in services, efficiency and effectiveness in state government.

  • Eliminated 2,526 non-utilized, yet funded positions in state government.

 

Stronger Families:

  • Since 1999, the State of Florida has increased its' collection of child support payments by $44.9 million, helping moms and fathers when other parents abandoned their obligations to their children

 

Less Taxes:

  • Between property tax rollbacks, tax cuts for Florida's seniors and savers and other tax holiday for parents, Florida has effectively cut 6.5 Billion dollars in cumulative tax relief during the last four years.

 

More Personal Responsibility:

  • Lowest crime rate since 1972, with a 50% reduction in violent crimes since 1990.

 

More Individual Freedom:
  • In 1996, five Charter schools were in existence whereas in 2000 there were 149. 

  • Moreover, over 27,000 students were being served by Charter schools in 2000, whereas only 3,000 in 1996

 "A + Education Plan:  

  • From 78 Failing Schools 3 years ago, to Florida having no failing schools in the state of Florida in the last school year.

  • A Harvard study says the main reason for F school improvement is the Opportunity Scholarships created in the A+ Education plan.

  • The McKay Scholarship Program
  • We provided the parents of special-needs children with the freedom to choose how to best provide for their child's education. Thanks to the fine leadership of President McKay, and the superb work of this body, we are now able to provide these children with scholarships that will help them find a better learning environment that is more suitable for their needs. 

  • "Corporate Income Tax Credits" (2001)

  • And last Friday, I attended an event with Representative Siplin the historic town of Eatonville where two new schools funded by private contributions under last years tax credit proposal will be started. Pastor Willie Barnes, joined the Eatonville Community, Sheriff Malone Stewart of the Orange County Sheriff's Office and wildly enthusiastic parents in announcing plans for a school for the most at risk boys in grades five through seven in Eatonville The first choice some of these parents have ever had to help their children. 


There you have it: less government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, individual freedom, and stronger families. Advance these principles and you will likely pass bills or amendments in this House. Members of both parties are figuring this out, and their bills are moving. Just ask Representative Cusack. Representative Cusack was persistent and she convinced me that her bill to create a public school volunteer health care practitioner program advanced the House principles. And because of Representative Cusack's persistence, HB 355 is moving. It passed out of General Education as a Committee Substitute earlier this month, and it only has one stop left before the floor. Representative Cusack is succeeding within the principles, and the principles are assuring that her success is Florida's success.

These principles that we as legislators embrace are our American legacy. What they enable us to do is face the future with comfort that our success will be Florida's success.

IV.    Tax Reform

President McKay has asked the House to look at a complex proposal to change Florida's current tax structure. Certainly, each of us understands the enormity of his proposal and how important this issue is to him. At the moment, we are all unsure of the ramifications of such a plan. Some of you have perhaps noted that the issue has generated a small amount of controversy in the last few weeks. But the House has never been afraid to take up and examine controversial issues. And I commend President McKay for his courage and commitment to examining Florida's future.

 President McKay has put forth a complex idea and the House should give it the full and fair attention it deserves. On that note, I want to thank Rep. Johnnie Byrd for the leadership he has provided and continues to provide for the select committee to review the President's proposal.  I like the prospect of cutting the sales tax rate and reviewing non-meritorious exemptions.  But as we review President McKay's tax proposal, we must ask ourselves many complex and fundamental questions.

 The President is a friend and dedicated Floridian and deserves an open and full hearing.  It is critical that we not retard any economic recovery by adopting regulations or new taxes that impede economic growth and job opportunity. Any new tax proposal must be judged on a few basic questions:  Does it expand job growth, economic opportunities and prosperity?

Regardless of what happens on tax proposals, the best way to enhance Florida's tax revenues is to expand economic prosperity and job growth and increase personal incomes for Floridians.  For decades, Florida has relied on three legs to support our tax base - agriculture, tourism and construction.  It is time to provide a strong fourth leg to support Florida's economic engine.

V. Promise for the Future-High Tech

It has been my goal to position Florida as the International Gateway to Technology for the next century. Florida presently ranks 1st in the Southeastern United States and 6th nationally in total high-tech employment and high-tech business. More than 9,000 high-tech businesses have established operations in Florida, employing nearly 200,000 people.   From the telecommunications jobs in the Panhandle to the powerful I-4 High Tech Corridor in Central Florida, to the Network Access Point in Miami - Florida is becoming the Silicon Beach of tomorrow.

 I believe that this body, and our partners in the Senate, and the E-Governor Jeb Bush, must work hard to continue this upward trend in Florida's development of high-tech industry. By incentivizing business development, providing the necessary infrastructure and improving our education system, we can lay the groundwork to further expand Florida's share of the high-tech growth.   Joint efforts between our Universities, Community Colleges and technology companies are commencing across the state. 

 But the development of information technology should not be limited to the private sector. The Florida House is committed to continuing to advance the use of information technology in becoming a world leader in operating government better, faster and cheaper and in developing a competitive information technology industry. In this legislative session, the House will function as the most technologically advanced system of public policy making in our nation.

 In addition to our nationally acclaimed FREDS redistricting program, which makes every Floridian a map drawer, we will be previewing our new integrated legislative information system this session. Thanks to Reps. Bense, Cantens, Gelber, Henriquez, Mayfield and Rubio for agreeing to be the "guinea pigs" for our new system. The cost will be less than $3 million a year, compared to $9 million a year now. We will use not only 1/3 of the costs, also 1/3 of the resources to accomplish better outcomes.

VI. Meeting the Challenge of Leadership

And so, as we begin the one-hundred-fourth regular session of the Legislature since Statehood in 1845, I am proud to lead this great institution, the Florida House of Representatives. Leadership is a challenge and an honor that I take personally. But we are all-all one-hundred-twenty of us-leaders in this great State of Florida, and I know that leadership of our great state is an honor and a challenge that we all take personally.

And as we each work to meet the challenge of leadership, I hope we can exemplify leadership as defined by President Reagan: "to have the vision to dream of a better, safer world, and the courage, persistence, and patience to turn that dream into a reality."  I hope that sixty days from now we can say of each of our fellow legislators that he or she approached every day, every task, every issue with vision, courage, persistence, and patience.

 The challenges are daunting, but we will rely on each other to meet the challenges of leading our fellow citizens to a better, safer Florida.