Some legislators in for long, bumpy ride

Mar 5, 2008

Tallahassee Democrat--Mar. 5, 2008
By Jim Ash
FLORIDA CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF     Print    Email to a friend    Subscribe

Florida Senator Daniel Webster can’t hold back a smile as he receives a standing ovation from his friends in the Florida House of Representatives during the opening of the Florida Legislature on Monday, March 4, 2008.

Two of the state’s most powerful politicians delivered their marching orders Tuesday to the Florida Legislature, signaling a 60-day session that promises to be a bumpy ride.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, is a 17-year veteran who urged his troops to look beyond short-term cures as they deal with a looming $2.5 billion budget shortfall this year and next.
“Any legislator who concentrates on focusing solely on the here and now is going to have a long session,” Pruitt said in his opening remarks.

Pruitt outlined comparatively modest goals, including stimulus packages to attract more high-tech and bio-tech industries, renewing Florida Forever — the $300 million a year land conservation purchase program — investing in energy independence and asking voters to restore the state education commissioner to an elective post.

Pruitt, 51, is spending his last year in the Legislature. So is 36-year-old House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, who is also being forced by term limits to step down.

The two Republicans appear to have little else in common.

Rubio presented a far more aggressive agenda on Tuesday.

Where Pruitt called for optimism about the slumping economy while talking to reporters after his speech, Rubio struck a much more ominous tone to begin his remarks.

“Last year, our state failed to confront and solve the economic problems before us in a meaningful way. And now, we are facing the consequences,” Rubio said.

Rubio called for boosting the Florida economy by passing a sweeping property tax cutting measure, a 1.35 percent flat-tax proposal that promises $8 billion in property tax relief in the first year.

“Just remember this … If we do nothing, later this year property tax owners are going to get their tax bill and it is going to look a lot like the one they got last year. They are going to be angry,” Rubio said. “Maybe some have ‘property tax fatigue.’ But if we do nothing, come November, voters are going to have ‘incumbent fatigue.'”

House and Senate Democrats, who are in the minority, held a morning press conference to launch their opening salvos at the budget cutting plans of both leaders.

It was another sign that the unusually bipartisan spirit that marked the beginning of last year’s regular legislative session is all but a distant memory.

“We are in a state of crisis and we have to do better,” said Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-Deland.