Democratic Pre-Legislative Session Press Conference Recap

Mar 4, 2008

On Tuesday, March 4, 2008, the Senate and House Democratic Leadership held a press conference to discuss the 2008 Legislative Session, the budget and related issues. The leaders present included Senators Steve Geller (Minority Leader), Frederica Wilson (Minority Leader Pro Tempore), Nan Rich (Minority Policy Chair), and Tony Hill (Minority Whip) as well as Representatives Dan Gelber (House Minority Leader) and Joyce Cusack (Minority Leader Pro Tempore).

Senator Geller noted that the budget is the biggest issue facing Florida, and that there is not enough money in the State to fund all of the necessary programs. He also stated that the Legislature must look at budget inflows (via increased taxes or fees), outflows (such as budget cuts), and various innovative ideas. Senate Bill 2310 by Senator Ring, which would require the state to invest a portion of the pension funds in Florida, was given as an example of one of those innovative ideas.

Representative Gelber expressed concerns regarding the budget. He noted that the rising costs of insurance, property taxes and fuel are making Florida unaffordable. Despite the tight budget, Representative Gelber stated that education must be fully funded–particularly higher education. Thus, he has filed a combined reporting bill that, if passed, is expected to provided $400 million in revenue to the state. Noting that in the last two years, the Democrats have picked up nine previously-held Republican seats in the House, Representative Gelber introduced Tony Sasso, a newly-elected State Representative.

Senator Wilson spoke about the budget and noted that Republicans have been using “Draconian” measures. She shared specific concerns in education and noted that money used for the FCAT could and should be utilized to offset budget shortfalls. She also spoke in favor of supporting legislation to ensure that individuals leaving prison have an opportunity for access to employment, including state jobs.

Representative Cusack characterized Florida as being on a course that will lead to the demise of the State. She stated that there is neither sufficient affordable housing, nor entry-level jobs to meet current demand. She favors a plan that will stimulate the economy from the bottom up, not from the top down. She also supports using some of the “rainy day” funds to make up for budget shortfalls.

The Minority leaders took questions from the media, most of which were focused on the budget. During the exchange, Senator Rich suggested taxing cigarettes by one dollar, which would generate approximately $1 billion in additional revenue. The Leaders support looking at all revenue options, including sweeping trust funds—an option which also is offered in the Governor’s budget proposal. Senator Geller and Representative Gelber concluded the press conference by noting that the House is considered to be the “roadblock” regarding the budget and that the Governor is on board with these ideas.

To read media coverage of the press conference from The Miami Herald, click here.

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