Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford laid out the Florida House's agenda for the 2013 legislative session that began Tuesday. Among the priorities of the Florida Work Plan, which the speaker and Florida Senate President Don Gaetz jointly developed, are restoring trust in government, education reform and protecting the states fiscal future.
In his remarks during the first session of the House Tuesday morning, the Republican of Wesley Chapel said the Legislature will make Florida a pocket of personal and economic freedom during a time of national fiscal uncertainty, since the federal government has not tackled the nations debt crisis nor has it passed a budget in nearly four years.
The speaker outlined a detailed agenda to reach that fiscal goal that includes reform of the states pension system and not expanding Medicaid in the state.
Weatherford said this year the state will pay $500 million of general revenue to shore up the state's pension fund an amount on top of what Florida contributes to state employees retirement. According to the speaker, the same half billion will need to be paid for the next nearly 30 years to keep the system solvent. He declared a pension-reform plan will be passed this session that is fair and will not require raising taxes down the line to keep the pension fund afloat.
He also vowed to pass an annual balanced budget to show lawmakers in D.C. how it's done.
The speaker also said lawmakers will restore trust in government through a series of election and campaign finance reforms.We must restore trust in government because if the public believes that our elections are flawed, that our ethics laws are weak, and that our campaign finance laws are broken, how will they ever have confidence in anything else we do here? he asked.
Weatherford noted the state will continue to work on improving the K-12 system but focused much of his comments on higher education, with the announcement of the opportunity for every university to earn a merit-based increase in funding and the creation of what he deemed a branded, accredited, singularly-focused online university will be that catalyst for change.
Weatherford pointed out that the generation currently entering higher education grew up on the Internet. He believes an online university will bolster higher learning, because of its availability to more Floridians and its affordability compared to traditional universities.
The best part about it is that we can offer it for a fraction of the cost, Weatherford said. Our next generation of students wont have to choose between being saddled with debt and getting a degree.
The speaker hopes the agenda put forward will help foster a state where the American dream of upward mobility through hard work and playing by the rules is still possible.
Anne Smith writes special to Sunshine State News.