On Tuesday, after opening the 113th regular session since statehood of the Florida House, Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, warned members in remarks about the perils they will be facing in challenging economic times.
“166 year ago, Florida became the 27th state to join the United States of America,” said Cannon. 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,” continued Cannon. “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.
Cannon took aim at a federal government he insists has spiraled out of control and said it is a model of how not to run the state government.
“The political system in Washington D.C. is broken,” said Cannon. “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,” added Cannon. “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.”
Cannon said most politicians in Washington were elected with good intentions but that the Beltway changed them.
“I believe that most of them went to Congress with the same good intent that brings each of us to Tallahassee,” said Cannon. “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,” added Cannon. “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.”
Cannon continued to hammer the Beltway culture--and offered it as example of what could happen to the Legislature.
“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,” said Cannon on national leaders in Washington. “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?“ asked Cannon. “Because if we are not vigilant, we will follow Washington down the path they have created with their good intentions and their lousy decisions.
Cannon called for the House to act responsibly and face the problems plaguing the Sunshine State and examine policy instead of playing politics.
“We too have become enamored with the politics of labels,” said Cannon. “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,” added Cannon. “We have to care about the details and the real impact of what we do.”
The speaker said he would push for a balanced budget that would stand on its own without reliance on Washington or local governments.
“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,” said Cannon before noting there would be tough choices ahead for state government. “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. That is reality.”
Cannon insisted that the House would craft together a responsible budget.
“We will show the people of Florida that we are willing to do what is necessary to produce a responsible balanced budget,” pledged Cannon. “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.
“These are difficult times, and that means we will make difficult decisions,” added Cannon. “We will have to reduce spending on good programs in order to preserve necessary programs.”
Cannon said that protesters, lobbyists and special interest groups would try to shape the decisions made in the House.
“Protestors and interest groups and lobbyists will attempt to manipulate the emotions of our citizens in an effort to influence all of us ,” said Cannon. “We will not make decisions based on the politics of fear and anger.”
Cannon focused on some of the issues that the House will be tackling in the session. The speaker vowed to fight once again for teacher performance pay review, Medicaid reform, going after pill mills and helping businesses flourish and bring jobs to the Sunshine State.
“We will pursue policies to create a business climate that encourages entrepreneurship and remembers that private risk taking, not government incentive programs, create jobs,” said Cannon. “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.
Cannon vowed to continue the fight for teacher performance pay reform.
“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,” said Cannon. “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.”“
“We will finally deal with a Medicaid program that spreads like a cancer, each year consuming more and more of the sate budget,” said Cannon. “We will pass meaningful, comprehensive Medicaid reform that does not cater to any of the entrenched interests but instead holds them all to account.”
The speaker also reiterated his plan to push for two state Supreme Courts, one for civil justice and one for criminal matters, as well as other judicial reform proposals.
“We will address the modernization of our courts system. Despite what you might have read in the newspaper, I believe strongly in our judiciary,” said Cannon. “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,” added Cannon. “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.
Cannon continued to insist that the court had overstepped its bounds. The speaker has been very critical of the state Supreme Court striking down a number of proposed constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature.
“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,” continued Cannon. “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.”
Cannon closed by expressing optimism about the state’s future but warning the House members that the session would prove challenging.
“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,” said Cannon. “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,” Cannon closed. “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.
Cannon praised former Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott in his remarks.
“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,” said Cannon. “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.”
Cannon took a shot at former Gov. Charlie Crist, saying he was trying to forget the four years between Bush and Scott -- when Crist presided in Tallahassee.
The Florida House also inaugurated its newest member in its opening moments of the new session.
Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, won a special election last month to represent parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. She replaces Oscar Braynon who vacated the seat to run successfully for the Senate. Watson, who was introduced by Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, offered some brief words of thanks before taking her seat and joining the House.
“I am proud to serve my community in this continued effort to have their voices heard and to address their needs,” said Watson.
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