Sen. Mike Haridopolos opens session with Bible, Churchill and lesson of 2 Rs
Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos opened the Florida Senate with the following speech (prepared remarks):
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 it has also happened in the private sector with defined benefit plans in which the employees make no contribution. Yet that is exactly what we have, the dinosaur of deferred compensation. In today’s economic environment, we simply cannot afford to feed a dinosaur.
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.”