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Budget should give every Floridian a fair opportunity

State Rep. Joe Gibbons

Budget should give every Floridian a fair opportunity

Commentary from State Rep. Joe Gibbons Democratic Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee

     I believe Florida’s budget for 2013-2014 should be guided by one simple premise: that every Floridian deserves a fair opportunity to achieve the American dream.

    As the Democratic ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, I will work this year to ensure that our state makes a commitment to equity and opportunity for all: secure jobs with upward income mobility, safe communities, a strong education system, and affordable health care.

    In the House Democratic Caucus, our priorities are clear: putting children, families and education first, investing in jobs and innovation for Floridians, protecting our environment, and promoting public safety and health, as well our state’s great diversity and workforce.

    I am optimistic about Florida’s future and the opportunities that exist in the upcoming 2013 legislative session for bipartisan leadership and progress to keep Florida’s economy on an upward trajectory. If truly committed to the task, the Florida Legislature can craft what I consider a “Job-Creation Budget” that prioritizes investments in our future through spending in education, health care and innovative public infrastructure projects, some of which may be better met by assisting local governments.

    There’s little standing in our way. For the first time in five years, the Legislature will not begin a regular session facing a budget shortfall. In fact, we are presently estimated to have an $828 million budget surplus when the Legislature convenes in early March. This gives us opportunity to do more than just window-dress education issues and teacher compensation needs as Gov. Rick Scott has, thus far, proposed.

    In this state, we’ve got to do better than what occurred only two years ago when the Republican-run Legislature and governor slashed $1.3 billion in funding from Florida’s schools, and last year, in 2012, when the budget I opposed cut state university budget reserves and Bright Futures Scholarships for college education. This year, in bi-partisan fashion, we can invest in our future workforce by focusing on education, including pre-kindergarten, a strong K- 12 public school system with more and better paid teachers, and much greater attention to the needs facing our community college and university systems.

    By focusing on education and health care, we will begin to shift state investment from addressing problems after they develop to preventing them in the first place. For instance, expanding Medicaid under the Federal Affordable Care Act is not just an affordable approach to ending Florida’s problem of a vast uninsured populace, but it’s also a means of accelerating Florida’s economic recovery to restore our shared prosperity.

    This can be a year that Florida makes progress toward creating a broader economy with more high-tech jobs and investments in new industries.

    Unfortunately, after years of neglect, Florida’s needs are great, especially when it comes to our state’s infrastructure. Roads, bridges, and public works projects are public investments that create jobs and economic development in the private sector. It will be important that the Legislature does not, as it has done in the recent past, raid a vital Transportation Trust Fund that provides resources for these important job-creating projects.

    Democrats and Republicans agree that government should operate prudently. But in the House Democratic Caucus, we will closely monitor any proposed financial schemes that portend to create jobs and grow the economy but, in actuality, turn out to be little more than incentives for special interests or offers that don’t deliver promised economic growth.

    There is much work to be done to rebuild a strong, secure middle class and further expand economic opportunity. Doing so, I believe, starts with reinvesting in public education, making health care more affordable for individual Floridians and small businesses, and making smart choices for a growing economy.

    State Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, serves Florida House District 100 in Broward County. He is the Democratic ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee. He can be reached at either (850) 717-5100 or


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