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Fla. House Speaker and Senate President Session Opening Remarks

By: The News Service of Florida
By: The News Service of Florida

The following are remarks as prepared for delivery on the opening day of the legislative session by Senate President Mike Haridopolos on March 8, 2011.

“In November, 1942, after three grim years of defeat, the British won a great victory in North Africa that proved to be a turning point in World War II. Winston Churchill famously said at the time that it was not the end, or even the beginning of the end. But, perhaps, it was the end of the beginning.

For more than three years – for what seems like forever – Florida has been battered by an economic storm the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. Life savings have been swept away as families looked on helplessly. Wave after wave of home foreclosures have washed over us. Unemployment has mounted higher and higher still, month after month, year after year. And government revenues at every level have plummeted, rendering budgetary fat an unaffordable luxury, which is good, and necessitating cuts to the bone and beyond, which is not.
We are certainly not at the end of this recession, but I hope we can go Churchill one better - perhaps we are at the beginning of the end. There is hardship yet to be endured, hard decisions yet to be made. Too many homes still teeter on the edge of foreclosure. Too many people who want work still cannot find work. And we will cut billions more from the state budget at a time when unfunded mandates from the Federal government and the needs of our citizens demand more from us, not less.

So, if it is true that adversity builds character, then every one of you can count on being a much better person by the time we adjourn in 60 days. I believe it is not too early for us to take stock, to reflect on the lessons of the recession as they apply to our state government, and to chart a new course for the future.

I recognize that we are bit players in the international economic drama. In fact, it is doubtful that we alone can do much to impact the national economy in all its vastness and complexity.

But, fortunately, we are not alone. We may rely upon the fact that our colleagues in Congress and our brethren in every state legislature share our goals of prosperity with justice, and freedom with security. And we can be sure that farmers in Nebraska are not so very different from construction workers in Florida in the ways that matter most.

Edmund Burke wrote that the building blocks of any community, of every nation, are the little platoons – families, churches, charities, civic organizations. We are just such a little platoon in the big picture of things. But if we do our part, and others do theirs, then together we will achieve our shared goals as a people, as a state, and as a nation.

But, what is to be done? I say let’s shoot the sharks nearest the boat first. Let’s concentrate on what we can reasonably expect to accomplish today without dissipating our energy and losing our focus in futile pursuit of things that ought to be done some day.

For it is written: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.” This is great advice, probably because Matthew had it on pretty good authority.

The troubles we face today are the programmatic remnants of a government that was too large, too complacent and too wasteful. A government whose structural weaknesses were harshly exposed by the stress test that is this recession. We will have countless opportunities this year to address these troubles.

But my personal priorities for this session can be summed up as the two Rs – Reform and Restraint. When looking at opportunities for reform, two leap out at me.
Pension reform and Medicaid reform.

First, we must reform the Florida Retirement System. Defined benefit plans are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. This has already happened in the private sector because of their prohibitive cost. And unlike most other states we have defined benefit plans, to which the public employees make no contributions. This is the dinosaur we have nurtured in Florida.

Make no mistake: I yield to no one in my high regard for our public employees. My experience is that these men and women are able and dedicated professionals, and I am grateful for their hard work, as we all should be. But while public service may be a calling, it is still a job, not a magic cloak that can hide one from reality.

Pension reform must be a priority this year. Medicaid reform is essential. I applaud Speaker Cannon for his leadership on this issue. Senators Negron, Gaetz and Garcia have already done outstanding work. We can realize the savings that result from competition and managed care in Medicaid without sacrificing quality and always putting patients first. This is a massive undertaking, a real paradigm shift. But coming to grips with Medicaid is a duty we cannot shirk. The increasing Medicaid population, rising health care costs, and unfunded Federal mandates have created a black hole that will swallow the state budget sooner than later if we do not act promptly.

My second R… restraint… may be a goal …more difficult to achieve than reform. It is always hard to change long standing programs and laws, each with its own powerful and vocal constituency. But changing ourselves is something else altogether. Anyone knows what I mean if they have ever tried to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly…or…in the case of most politicians, listen when someone else is talking. And while we have done much better of late, primarily because of necessity, restraint has not historically been one of the distinguishing characteristics of any legislature.

But it is my belief that we can learn restraint, and even institutionalize it in some cases. We must, of course, continue to hold the line against new taxes however great the strain. I doubt any of you thinks that now is the time to increase the tax burden of Floridians. I know most of us believe that the appropriate frequency of tax increases roughly coincides with appearances of Haley’s comet. And I agree with you. And taxes have no more ruthless enemy than me. Whether we can actually reduce taxes, at the present time, in a responsible way remains to be seen. If anyone can show me how we can realistically feed the increasing multitude with even fewer fish and less bread than we have now, then I will gladly follow him.

Another area where restraint can go a long way in aiding recovery is what I think of as responsible regulation. I compliment Governor Scott for his bold initiatives in this area. He can count on my unstinting support for vetting our regulations past and future with new standards based on real need and common sense.

When it comes to regulation, government should require no more of its people than their actual health, safety and welfare demands. More than that is meddling, and arrogance to boot. When it comes to regulation, my personal belief is less is more and a little humility will go a long way. And speaking of humility and restraint, the legislature has room to show more respect in its dealings with local governments than it has during the past decade.

We say we believe in the principle of representative democracy, in home rule, but it is a principle more often honored in the breach than in the observance.

Our hands certainly are not clean on this issue. But the arrogance and reckless disregard for unfunded mandates with which the new Federal health care regime has been imposed on us has made me rethink relations between state and local governments. I have a renewed appreciation for home rule. And what is good for the goose is good for the gander. So let’s not be rolling anything downhill to Deland, DeBary, and DeFuniak Springs this session.

My final priority under the R of restraint is a meaningful statutory limitation on state spending coupled with new reserves that will help soften the blow of the next economic downturn. There is a state spending limitation currently on the books, but the fact that it has never operated to limit one dime in spending is proof positive of its inadequacy.

I call my plan Smart Cap, because it is both. But it could be called the Old Testament Option, as the concept was originally Joseph’s. In the good years, don’t eat all the corn. Save some, so that in the bad years you don’t have to eat sand. Very wise, and very much needed if we do not want our spending in the past to be the prologue to our spending in the future.

Smart Cap is also an opportunity to walk the walk on home rule. We will lead by example, not coercion. Smart Cap will apply only to state government. Local governments will choose their own paths in consultation with their constituents.

The agenda I have outlined is an ambitious one. Getting good grades in the two Rs will not be easy. But I know we are up to it. Experience tells me that.

For three years we have labored mightily to meet the challenges of this recession. I am proud of the job we and our colleagues in the House, led by Dean Cannon, have done in cutting spending, holding down taxes, and preserving needed services under tremendous pressure.

But as I said at the outset, we are only at the beginning of the end, and there is much more to be done. So, I welcome to the job all those who are just now getting to work. There cannot be too many willing hands turned to the task before us.

So, on this opening day…I close by saying to you: ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends…once more.’”

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The following are remarks as prepared for delivery on the opening day of the legislative session by House Speaker Dean Cannon on March 8, 2011.

“I am pleased to see so many familiar faces here with us today. One of my goals as Speaker has been to make adjustments to this process to stem the loss of institutional memory that accompanies term limits. But no program or training the House can devise can match what you can learn from our former Speakers and our former Leaders. And, I want to thank you all for your legacy of leadership and example to us.

I would like to extend my personal welcome to all of our guests here today – whether you are on the Floor or joining us in the gallery. To the families of our Members, I want to extend a special thank you. No one truly understands the sacrifice of public service in the Florida House and the burdens it places on our families. The love and support you give to the Members is what makes it possible for them to lead this great state.

And so Members, I would ask that we rise and show our appreciation for our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, and all of those who enable us to serve here.

Standing up here on Opening Day brings back so many memories especially of my freshman term. During my first two years in the House, I had the privilege to serve with a Republican governor who led this state as a principled conservative; who believed in transformational reform, and who believed that standing up for what is right mattered more than being popular.

And now, as I begin my final two years in the House, I am privileged to again serve with a Republican governor who leads this state as a principled conservative, and who believes that standing up for what is right matters more than being popular.

166 year ago, Florida became the 27th State to join the United States of America. Since then, our State’s Legislature has assembled to address the great issues of the day. In some years, those issues were unique to Florida. At other times, like today, those issues were a subset of a much larger national conversation.

The challenges we will address over the next 60 days are very similar to issues being addressed in state capitols from Hartford to Honolulu. The nationalization of state politics has emerged as a result of the crisis that has consumed Washington D.C. It is to state the obvious to say that the Federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.

The political system in Washington D.C. is broken. It has spawned a massive, unwieldy bureaucracy that looks at states as if they are administrative subsidiaries rather than as sovereign entities within a Federal system of government.

It has created a paralyzing web of entitlement programs that is literally beginning to collapse under the weight of promises it cannot fulfill. It has avoided dealing with these problems by spending money we don’t have and borrowing money we have no way to repay. Washington has become addicted to foreign debt. We are like a fiscal heroin addict and the Chinese government is their main supplier. Throughout all of this, politicians in both parties have failed to do anything to stop it.

All of that on its own is disturbing, but in a Federal system of government, what happens at one level of government inevitably translates to the other layers of government.

And so a state like Florida – where we’ve maintained a responsible, balanced budget; where we’ve avoided significantly expanding existing entitlement programs; a state which in the last 16 years has pushed through a number of policy reforms – still faces the most significant fiscal crisis in our modern history.

Although the idea of a Federal system of government implies a division between the Federal government and the states, the truth is that we have become increasingly dependent on Federal money in the areas of health care, social services, transportation, the environment, and education.

This week the House will take up a bill dealing with unemployment compensation, where the State has been forced to act as the administrator for a mandatory Federal program.

Later in Session, we will take up a bill dealing with Medicaid, a Great Society Federal entitlement program run amok and it has become the single largest cost driver in our state’s budget.

But as we consider the challenges posed by these national issues and national policies, we should be careful to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions. The Federal government is not broken because the men and women of Congress are bad or selfish people.

I believe that most of them went to Congress with the same good intent that brings each of us to Tallahassee. Each went to Washington believing that they were going to be the catalyst for change – they were going to be the person to make the difference.

But along the way, something went wrong. They got sidetracked by a culture of corruption or intoxicated by an environment of entitlement. Popularity – with voters, with political commentators, with special interest groups – became the goal.

They measured the merits of their ideas by poll numbers and the success of their initiatives by the number of minutes they spent on CNN or Fox News. They chased political trends and curried favor with special interests.

They forgot that social services should lift people out of hard times not surround them in a cocoon of dependency. They forgot that when governments step in to protect certain types of businesses then markets are no longer free.

In their desire to not upset special interests, they learned they could avoid hard truths with creative accounting and convoluted adjustments to their balance sheet. In their desire to pass a law to solve every problem – which is so tempting – they shrugged off the constitutional restraints on their power and traded liberty for government control and statesmanship for sound bites.

Why is all of that is so important? Because if we are not vigilant, we will follow Washington down the path they have created with their good intentions and their lousy decisions.

We too have become enamored with the politics of labels. We find a catchy name for a concept and suddenly the details, the actual law, becomes secondary. The packaging begins to define the content – eight is enough, the anti-murder act, three strikes and you’re out – at the end of the day we must have more than a slogan.

In lawmaking, details matter, and it is fine for a slogan or a label to start the conversation, but we the lawmakers have to finish it, carefully. We have to care about the details and the real impact of what we do.

This Session, we will be faced with the temptation to which our colleagues in Washington have already given in – the desire to put off hard decisions. There will be lobbyists and others promising easy ways to do hard things. Fantasies and phantom budget solutions will be traveling the hallways in the guise of waivers and efficiencies.

We will be tempted to balance our budget by reaching up to the Federal government to bail us out or by pushing down our burdens to local governments.

As we move forward to put together the 2011-12 budget, I would ask all of you to recall this basic truth – you cannot cut government spending without cutting government services.

This Session, in this House, we will be responsible for our own actions.

This Session, in this House, we are going to strive to do something that many say is impossible – to conduct ourselves in a manner that restores the trust and the confidence of the people of Florida in their government, and to implement reforms that will transcend the bounds of process, politics and political parties.

I reject the notion that people are unavoidably cynical about politics. Americans believe in a better system.

In the Speaker’s Office, we’ve displayed documents that symbolize our nation’s pursuit of freedom and our desire to build a better nation and a better world. We are a country that confronts our problems and learns from our mistakes. We are a country that believes in our ability to form and constantly pursue better government, to form a more perfect union.

Floridians have always been the most optimistic of Americans. Ours is the Sunshine State – a place populated by people seeking a new and better life.

But our predecessors understood, and we must remember, that this new and better life does not come easily or without sacrifice. Neither the future, nor anything in it is an entitlement; the future it must be fought for and it must be earned.

This Session, in this House, we will show the people of Florida that we are willing to do what is necessary to produce a responsible balanced budget. We will use real numbers and hard data – even if those numbers tell us things we do not want to hear. We will remember that a catchy label doesn’t make a bad idea good.

This Session, in this House, we will show the people of Florida that we can see past political self-interest and address the problems that matter to the future of our State. These are difficult times, and that means we will make difficult decisions. We will have to reduce spending on good programs in order to preserve necessary programs.

We will have to make hard choices, and those choices will not occur in a vacuum. Over the next nine weeks, this Capitol will be filled with angry protesters, countless special interests, and well-paid lobbyists. And all are welcome. In a free society, everyone – friend or foe – has the opportunity to participate in the process and have their voices heard. Unfortunately, many of those protestors and interest groups and lobbyists will attempt to manipulate the emotions of our citizens in an effort to influence all of us.

To those groups I say this: this Session, in this House, we will not make decisions based on the politics of fear or anger.

And to our citizens, I say this: this Session, in this House, we will respect the basic tenet of this country – that our laws should favor those who are willing to work hard and play by the rules.

This Session, in this House, we will continue our journey to toward an education system built on the unassailable truth that our public schools exist to ensure that our students learn.

We have made significant strides in the area of student performance and school accountability, and now we will translate that concept to the area of teacher quality. We cannot and will not perpetuate a status quo where our worst performing teachers are paid as much as and valued as much as our hardest working, most dedicated teachers.

This Session, in this House, we will pursue policies to create a business climate that encourages entrepreneurship and remembers that private risk taking, not government incentive programs, create jobs.

The primary engines of Florida’s economy, the incubators of innovation in the marketplace, and the true key to reducing unemployment, are our small businesses. That is where we should focus our attention and our resources.
This Session, in this House, we will finally deal with a Medicaid program that spreads like a cancer, each year consuming more and more of the State budget.

We will pass meaningful, comprehensive Medicaid reform that does not cater to any of the entrenched interests but instead holds them all to account.

I will be the first to admit that our Medicaid plan is not easily reduced to a sound bite. It is a complex bill designed to solve a complicated problem. It is tough, fair, comprehensive and realistic.

It recognizes that the time for special interest carve outs and pilot programs has passed.

If we allow ourselves to become distracted by symbolism, slogans, or empty threats, we will end up simply pushing the problem on to a future Legislature to solve. Instead, we have to try to do what Washington has failed to do – step up to the plate and bring this entitlement program under control.

This Session, in this House, if we decide that government should act, we should act decisively, regardless of whether that action upsets entrenched interests. Florida has become the national supplier for the prescription drug abuse.

Florida pill mills sell medications directly to the patient rather than giving them a prescription to take to a legitimate pharmacy.

Nearly half of all doctors in the country who buy and dispense methadone are located in Florida and they purchase more than 93% of all the methadone sold to practitioners in the entire country.

The supply of oxycodone purchased by practitioners is also frightening. Florida has 5% of the population, yet doctors dispense 85% of the oxycodone sold and dispensed by practitioners in the entire country.

Physicians bought enough oxycodone to dispense 100 times the amount per Florida resident than supplied by practitioners in the rest of the country, combined.

Those statistics tell a clear and unambiguous story – there are a group of doctors in Florida who have abandoned the principles and ethics of their noble profession in order to become drug dealers.

They deserve neither the protection nor sanction of this State nor of their own profession, which is why the Florida House will propose legislation banning the direct sale to patients of oxycodone, hyromorphone, hyrdocodone and methadone by these drug dealing doctors.

We must look beyond awkward regulations and downstream databases and send a message to the drug dealers and the drug seekers that, when it comes to the pill mill industry, Florida is now closed for business.

This Session, in this House, we will address the modernization of our courts system. Despite what you might have read in the newspaper, I believe strongly in our judiciary.

Our courts are the guardians of our basic rights and essential liberties. But, when any branch of government acts to deprive a person of their life, their liberty or their property, those government actions should be subjected to the strictest of scrutiny, and handled with the great care.

By creating a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals and a Supreme Court of Civil Appeals, we can expand the capacity of the existing court and provide specialization that will result in greater scrutiny and better justice in criminal cases, especially death penalty cases.

An important part of court reform will also be ensuring our State’s judges have the financial resources they will need to perform their duties.

At the same time, we should modernize the processes associated with the development of court rules and with the appointment, selection and retention of judges.

I believe very strongly in the independence of the judiciary, and I won’t support any proposals that undermine our courts. However, judicial independence should never be offered as an excuse to escape accountability, or the limits of our constitution.

Because we are a constitutional republic, each branch of government has its role to play. Each branch of government has its privileges and its rights. And each branch of government has its limits.

In addition to being one of my favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln is also one of my favorite writers.

In his Gettysburg Address President Lincoln noted that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” and I certainly believe that sentiment holds true for my remarks today, and for the speeches and debate that will follow in the next 60 days.

But, I am equally sure that while our names and our words will be lost to the pages of history, the people of Florida will long remember and be affected by what we do, or fail to do here.

Standing before you today, I am filled with optimism and hope that the light of opportunity and the blessing of Providence will continue to shine on Florida’s future.

The next 60 days will be among the most challenging any of us have faced. How we respond to those challenges will determine and define the shape of things to come in our great State.

This Session, in this House, we have an opportunity to defy expectations.

We can refuse to follow our national leaders over the edge and into the abyss. We can prove to the people of Florida that we have the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do what is right.


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