BALANCING THE BUDGET
This year Florida faced the worst budget challenges in the state’s history. With an unprecedented deficit from the sharp downturn in the economy, an uncertain economic outlook and the coming federal stimulus flameout, the budget process in the Florida Legislature took a few days longer than normal to conclude. However, it was more important for us to make the right decisions than hasty ones. These challenges came with an even larger responsibility to handle Florida’s business with a discerning and cautious hand. Throughout this process, we have had to make some tough decisions; however, I hope you will notice that the common thread that binds these decisions has been the needs of the citizens throughout the State. We have worked hard to ease the burden on you, your families and your businesses.
The budget we passed puts Florida’s core missions first. We made tough, yet responsible decisions that are in the long-term best interest of our state’s financial future and together we focused on the core missions of government – keeping our families safe, providing our children with the opportunity for a world-class education and providing critical health care for the most vulnerable among us.
We took a fiscally responsible, long-term approach that aimed to put Florida in the best possible posture to rebound when the economy recovers. This approach meant that hard choices had to be made now to stop spending more than we can afford, but it was the responsible thing to do for Florida’s economic future.
Florida’s constitution only requires us to pass a balanced budget for this year, but it’s also just as important to pass a budget that minimizes the risk of starting out with a deficit next year, so we made decisions in the best interest of Florida’s long-term future. We ensured that Floridians are not burdened with a billion dollar tax increase starting next year by taking into account state money’s will be needed to replace the federal stimulus dollars that will run out by the end of 2010.
We were responsible in our use of federal stimulus dollars as well as with new revenues. We did not use those dollars to grow government or recurring program costs in future years and we did not radically expand our tax system in a way that would discourage economic recovery and job creation. Our responsible decisions today should save Florida families and businesses billion of dollars over the next few years. Over the past two years the state budget has been reduced by over $5 billion. Because of the strings attached to the Federal stimulus package, reducing the state budget significantly was not a viable option this year. We also did not ask anyone to do more than we ourselves were willing. To that end, we reduced our own pay (for the second year in a row) by 7% because we understand the importance of making tough decisions to save taxpayer dollars.
There is no doubt that we are on the path to a more vibrant economy and brighter future. We must continue to remain optimistic. As your State Senator I promise that we will work together and that we will succeed in achieving our common goals to make Florida the ideal place to live, work, raise a family and retire.