Pensacola News Journal – March 8, 2011
TALLAHASSEE — Florida legislators arrived at the Capitol in a festive mood Monday and raced through a few political formalities in preparation for two months of difficult wrangling over budget cuts, a major overhaul of public-employee pensions and preparations for the 2012 elections.
“There’s going to be a balanced budget 61 days from now,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. “And we’re going to do it without increasing taxes or fees.”
Gov. Rick Scott said his State of the State speech this evening will stick to what got him elected. He told officials of Associated Industries of Florida, the state’s major business lobby, that economic development powered by tax cuts and reduction of state regulations will be his core mission for the session.
Refreshments were more varied at the biggest party of the year, the session-eve bash hosted by lobbyists of Associated Industries of Florida at its headquarters. AIF President Barney Bishop said up to 2,000 politicos were expected.
Supporters of the governor’s plans have arranged all-day lobbying activities, highlighted by a noon tea party rally on the east steps of the Old Capitol.
Opponents of the governor’s budget plans have set two rallies — 10:30 a.m. at the Leon County Courthouse and 5 p.m. at Kleman Plaza — to protest cuts in insurance and pension benefits for public employees.
About 40 labor activists put blue tape over their mounts in a silent protest, flanking the entrance of a Senate committee meeting that was to hear a bill by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. His bill would end deduction of union dues by public employers and also forbid use of union dues money for political contributions.
For a non-election year, the session has an unusually heavy dose of politics. The state will soon get census data for redistricting, and committees will begin hearings and planning work on redrawing the 120 House and 40 Senate districts, plus the 27 congressional districts — an increase of two seats in the U.S. House.