Three area powerhouse organizations held a joint legislative update at the Polo Grill on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch on Thursday: the Home Builder’s Association, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and the Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange. But first things first—let’s talk about the delicious lunch provided by Tommy Klauber, proprietor of the fabulous Polo Grill. We were served perfectly roasted chicken atop Asian noodles and mixed greens, with mouthwatering and enormous chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow cookies.
Ok, so now on to the update. Sitting on the panel were Representative Greg Steube, Representative Ray Pilon, Senator Mike Bennett, Representative Jim Boyd and lawyer and lobbyist David Ramba.
Representative Steube opened the panel by talking about things he was proud of that took place during the last legislative session, such as reducing the Florida business tax, and said it was his goal to reduce it even more next year. Representative Pilon echoed his sentiments and mentioned the theme of the session was to improve the business climate in the state. Senator Bennett said that Governor Scott was “the most-goal driven person” he’d ever met and is on the right track to make the state operate more efficiently by decreasing costs. One of my favorite things that he said was, “The problems we are dealing with today are mostly from solutions we came up with yesterday.”
This reminded me of the Florida State employee pension issue, which just been ruled partially unconstitutional by the courts and is now awaiting appeal. It could mean millions of dollars that local governments and the state will have to repay to state workers such as police officers and firefighters. Many of these people went into their chosen professions in part because of the pension they would be afforded when they were done putting in their 25+ years of public service. (Yes, I am a little biased here—my husband is a police officer.)
I asked why these funds were not being frozen, rather than creating an even bigger hole for local lawmakers to fill if the law remains overturned in the court system. Ramba, a lobbyist for the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, said that all funds being contributed by personnel and by the state are now being put into an escrow account, in case they have to be given back later. He estimates it will be another two years before the case is resolved—most likely at the Florida Supreme Court. That’s when Senator Bennett said, “After 9/11, because of patriotism, pensions got out of control and we have to get them back to what they should be.”
Representative Boyd discussed how the state’s $4 billion deficit was reduced to $2 billion this year, and mentioned that local municipalities would be facing some hard cuts, such as clerks of the court, but he also said the main goal moving forward would be to “help balance the budget and make good, smart choices.” One of the bills he said he was most proud of was HB947, which states that if a felon is caught with a firearm, they will now get a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison—no questions asked. He also talked about the positive advances that were made in personal injury protection (PIP) reform.
All of them encouraged the audience—about 200 people—to reach out and give them input. They encouraged phone calls rather than e-mails, which can get lost in the crowd. Senator Bennett even gave his out: (941) 773-2335. I know I’ll use it—will you?