The 2008 legislative session will be remembered as the session for all pain and no gain. Truck paraphernalia, guns to work and wedge issues were at the forefront while the real challenges Floridians face today were ignored. The issues of the day were unaddressed at the close of session with Floridians left with an unstable insurance market, an unfair property tax system, a system of public education that leaves millions of children behind and a health safety net about to rupture.
Democratic Leader Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach): "We are home to the worst high school graduation rate in the nation. One in five children lacks health insurance. Homeowners are paying way more than their fair share in property taxes and are faced with property insurance rates that are obscene. Family incomes have flat lined over the last decade, and declining sales tax revenues have caused multi-billion dollar deficits in our already stretched and tattered state budget.
"So what did we spend sixty days talking about? Truck ornaments, guns to work and social wedge issues were at the forefront while the problems on the minds of so many Floridians were silent. All pain, no gain is the motto of this session. Floridians will continue to feel pain and their cries for help will only get louder."
Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Joyce Cusack (D-Deland): "Our families are hurting and we have failed to address the concerns of our constituents. The responsibility to make life a little easier for Floridians was not achieved this legislative session. The hardest calls I get from constituents are the ones who share their story of losing their job, the ones who have had their house foreclosed because they were preyed upon or the calls from families wanting healthcare for their children, but are unable to obtain it. This legislature has done nothing to address these concerns. It pains me that we spent hours on legislation that does not improve the lives of Floridians instead of focusing our attention on the real challenges our families confront day in and day out."
Sensible, thoughtful and responsible tax relief and reform were out of sight this legislative session. The inactions of the Republican Legislature to address the gross inequities in the property tax structure leaves new homeowners, middle-class families and small businesses with a greater burden of property taxes.
State Rep. Luis Garcia (D-Miami) said, "New homeowners and small businesses will continue to be clobbered with a greater tax burden because my colleagues across the aisle chose politically motivated plans rather than work united with Gov. Crist and the Senate to reform the system. I supported tax relief that came before the House, but we all knew it was not going to be taken up in the Senate. If politics would have been put aside, we could have passed meaningful tax relief this year. It's a shame that another year will go by before tax fairness can be addressed."
State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota) said, "We must change our tax system that negatively impacts middle-class families. Unfortunately, legislation I filed that would have given relief to so many was ignored this year. It is important that partisan plays are put aside next year so we can achieve what our constituents our expecting, restoring fairness to our tax system. We must work together to do what's right for the people of our state."
Property insurance relief will remain on the minds of Floridians since the Republican Legislature failed to include rate relief in the sweeping insurance reforms that passed earlier in the week. Though the consumer friendly measures were unanimously approved by the Legislature, House Democrats voiced their concern over the lack of relief to Floridians.
State Rep. Priscilla Taylor (D-Riviera Beach) "This legislation that passed this session was a positive step for consumers, but it is just a step. In order to move in the direction of a truly competitive market that would drive down rates, we need to have a real discussion about restructuring the way that companies provide insurance in Florida. We need outside the box thinking so we can achieve a healthily and stable market that serves the people well. As we look towards next session, reforming the system to permanently lower rates should be our top priority."
Representative Janet Long (D-Seminole) : "The consumer friendly measures that passed this week are exciting and will put in place needed reforms. However, these measures alone will not lower rates in our state. Families are facing tough economic challenges and insurance premiums are swallowing a large portion of family budgets. Unfortunately, the legislation that passed left out an important component, rate relief. We must start the work early next year by working together to enact reforms that will change the broken system."
The Republican prepared budget that cuts critical services in education, healthcare and public safety. The budget will hurt state employees in many regards, especially by providing no cost of living increase for the second year in a row. The bad news of the budget will be felt across the state, especially when Floridians get pink slips as a result of the budget passed this afternoon. The bad news will hit families across the state at a time when the United States Bureau of Labor announced that Florida's unemployment rate jumped from 3.7 percent to an alarming 4.9 percent. Florida's unemployment rate could surpass the national average of 5.1 percent if this budget takes effect
"Representative Martin Kiar (D-Davie): "As Floridians learn more about the budget put together by the Republican legislature, they will be outraged. Whether it is a parent explaining to their child why they got rejected from state universities though they worked hard in high school or a senior citizen in nursing home care learning about cuts to services they receive today, Floridians will be shocked by the priorities and decisions of this Republican legislature. The budget prepared by Republicans will throw our state into further recession and make it harder for our families to get the critical services they need during times of economic crisis."
Representative Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale): "Parents will be overwhelmed by the disastrous cuts school districts will have to make to balance their budget. Floridians will be shocked by the cuts to the courts system as they absorb deep cuts that will make it harder for the state's criminal justice system to address the increase in crime. It is unfortunate that prevention and education programs for our juveniles were slashed while massive prison construction contracts remain intact. These policy decisions made in this budget will come to light. Not today, not tomorrow, but in the future, we will feel the effects of ignoring prevention and education programs."
Representative Bill Heller (D-St. Petersburg): "We are forcing our best and brightest university professors to flea our state because of actions by the Republican Legislature. The budget passed this year continues to take millions of dollars from our institutions of higher education thus impeding our ability to attract a viable workforce and secure a knowledge based economy. Governor Crist, in his State of the State address, challenged this legislature to invest in our state universities and community colleges. This is hardly an investment. "
Leader Designated Franklin Sands (D-Weston) added, "Floridians have been clear in their message that they are tired of rank partisanship, tired of empty rhetoric, tired of politicians using social issues to drive wedges and tired of their elected officials failing to solve the real problems facing their state and their nation."