Senator Don Gaetz, District 1 — Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2013
CONTACT: Katie Betta, (850) 487-5229
2013 WORK PLAN FLORIDA
2013 Legislative Report
On Sunday afternoon, Vicky and I left Tallahassee and headed home to Niceville – the 2013 Florida Legislative Session completed and our “Work Plan Florida” agenda largely accomplished. While there’s always more that can be done better, this year’s legislative session was the most successful of the seven in which I have served as Senator for Northwest Florida.
The difference between Washington Senators and Florida Senators is that in our state we balanced the budget, lived within our means, paid down our debt instead of piling on more deficits, met the critical needs of the state and didn’t raise taxes one penny.
Other contrasts are stark, as well. The State of New York, which lost population to Florida in the last census and now is close to the same size as us, has a state budget of $141 billion. Florida’s budget is $74.5 billion. This year, we were able to put aside $2.8 billion in a rainy day fund, restoring $300 million “borrowed” last year from university reserves and invest $500 million to shore up the Florida Retirement System.
The Legislature appropriated $20 billion for education including a $1 billion increase for K12 schools and a $480 million salary increase for teachers based on locally-developed performance plans.
Before the session began, House Speaker Will Weatherford and I committed ourselves publicly to do something else that Washington can’t seem to do – we agreed on a joint agenda to move Florida forward, and we agreed to work together as partners instead of working against each other as antagonists.
Here are the five goals Speaker Weatherford and I staked out in our “Work Plan Florida” agenda and the results that were accomplished:
1. ETHICS REFORM
Unfortunately, here in Northwest Florida we’ve had more than our share of politicians at the state and local levels breaking our trust, breaking the law and using their public offices for private gain. Thousands of folks who welcomed me to their homes and businesses as I knocked on doors in the last two years echoed the same theme: Do something about political corruption.
So the first bill I asked the Senate to pass in the first hour of the first day of my presidency was what the media have called “the most sweeping ethics reform in 38 years.”
Senate Bill 2 puts politicians’ financial disclosures online, stops legislators from becoming lobbyists, restricts officeholders from collecting a second public paycheck for “make-work” jobs, garnishes politicians salaries when they break ethics or elections laws, prohibits officeholders from voting when there are conflicts of interest, stops political committees from giving “gifts” to public officials, makes it easier to file an ethics complaint against a politician, and gives the State Ethics Commission more teeth to enforce its rulings.
Despite the odds and the naysaying of the skeptics, SB 2 is now law.
2. CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
While most voters weren’t looking, shadowy “committees of continuous existence” have taken over most of the political process in our state. Two thirds of the funds used in and around campaigns in our state are now funneled through these CCE funds instead of through candidates’ own campaign accounts.
The abuses had become so gross that politicians were living champagne and filet mignon lifestyles out of money that was supposed to be used to educate voters about issues and candidates. Both parties were guilty of misusing the process.
House Bill 569 made these slush funds illegal. The bill went further by requiring more frequent reporting of campaign contributions and expenses, set individual, union and corporate contribution limits at $1,000 for legislative and local races and $3,000 for state-wide races, prohibits candidates who switch races from “double dipping” contributors for maximum contributions, and subjects candidates for party executive positions to financial reporting rules.
The chattering class in Tallahassee said it couldn’t be done, but HB 569 was passed by both Houses and signed by the Governor.
3. ELECTIONS REFORM
Here in Northwest Florida, we take pride in our flawless elections. Our supervisors of elections are honorable, skillful public servants and our poll workers are honest and careful. But in a handful of south Florida counties, elections continue to be bollixed year after year, making our state a laughingstock. Five days after the 2012 election was over, Florida still couldn’t report its presidential vote totals because of south Florida shenanigans.
House Bill 7013 cleaned up problems in state laws, expanded the number of days of early voting, gave supervisors of elections flexibility in setting up more early voting sites, ensured accurate and timely counts and stiffened the rules governing absentee voting to avoid fraud.
While some Democrats objected to the bill, HB 7013 passed by a wide margin and is on the Governor’s desk waiting for his signature.
4. CAREER AND PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION
Half of last year’s college and university graduates are today unemployed or underemployed, meaning their college degrees didn’t qualify them to compete successfully for good jobs. Beginning with our CHOICE Institutes which began in Okaloosa Schools when I was Superintendent, I’ve worked to lash our education system to the realities and opportunities of the economy. Degree programs and high school curricula need to be bent toward preparing students for the real economy.
Senate Bill 1076 dramatically expands career-technical education in middle and high schools and in Florida colleges. Students will be able to earn national industry certifications in 248 career fields including IT, aerospace, culinary arts, construction, agriculture, automotive and digital arts. These courses will be taught by industry-trained instructors with industry assessing student performance and industry awarding the credentials.
Students preparing for college and for jobs will meet the same high academic standards, but can satisfy graduation requirements through industry certifications or more conventional scholastic coursework. When students earn industry certifications, their teachers and their schools earn more money. Students can progress faster to graduation instead of being held to dumbed-down “seat time” requirements and other students will get more time and help if they are struggling. The legislation opens online education to tens of thousands more K12 students, with college-age and adult students able to earn University of Florida degrees entirely online.
SB 1076 also puts Florida State University and the University of Florida on the path to becoming “pre-eminent universities” competing at the highest levels nationally while providing substantially more funding to our regional universities like University of West Florida.
Here’s what we know about attracting new jobs to Florida – a strong educational system and a highly-qualified workforce are our best assets in economic development.
SB 1076 has been described as more than a reform, instead as “transformational” – the most ambitious career-technical innovation adopted by any state legislature this year. Designed jointly by Speaker Weatherford and myself and our teams, it is now law.
5. PENSION REFORM
Florida currently has over 500 municipal and special district pensions that are structured as defined benefit plans. These plans require the municipality or special district to contribute annually in anticipation of public employees’ retirement. According to the most recently reported figures, Florida’s municipal and special district pension plans currently have approximately $35 billion in future benefits to be paid out.
According to most recent reports complied by the Florida Department of Management Services, which oversees the Florida Retirement System, the current calculated unfunded liabilities of Florida municipal and special district pension plans totals approximately $10 billion and 61 percent of plans are funded below 80 percent funding levels.
That means the future retirement of hundreds of thousands of firefighters, law enforcement and local workers could either be endangered or require vast infusions of taxpayer dollars to remain solvent.
Meanwhile, our state Florida Retirement System already has to be subsidized every year by diverting $500 million of tax funds that otherwise could remain in taxpayers’ pockets or small business’ cash registers or be used for education, health care, job creation or law enforcement.
In the Senate, Speaker Weatherford narrowly lost an 18-22 vote for his plan to close the defined benefit retirement system to new state workers in favor of a defined contribution system. The defined benefit or 401-K style system focuses on choice and portability, better reflecting the needs of a modern workforce. That plan would have saved $30 billion over the next 50 years for taxpayers, given total security to current employees and retirees and given more choices to future employees.
As I mentioned above, the Speaker’s plan would have only applied to NEW employees, and would not have taken one penny from the current or future benefits of any present day employee or retiree. I voted for the Speaker’s plan, and I’m committed to making more progress next year on this issue which is so important to our taxpayers and our employees – past, present and future.
I am pleased to report that we were successful in passing Senate Bill 534, which requires local governments to accurately report on the internet the solvency and financial condition of their pension plans to their employees and the public. This additional transparency will help citizens of individual communities hold their local officials responsible for making sensible pension plan decisions. The bill also ensures that state taxpayers won’t be held responsible for mismanagement of municipal or county pension systems.
Passed on a bipartisan basis in both houses, SB 534 is on the Governor’s desk.
For More: http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/PressRelease/Show/1513