Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos can’t foresee all the twists that the state legislative session will take this year.
But he does know this: The state’s wallet is about to get $3.6 billion lighter.
The state senator stressed the importance of budget cuts throughout his presentation at Pugh Hall on Thursday night. The event, hosted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, encouraged people to submit questions to Haridopolos in person and online.
Faced with questions about Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget cuts, the future of Florida students and tax breaks for state businesses, Haridopolos, who is also a lecturer at UF, ensured the audience that the budget will shrink no matter where the deepest cuts are made.
In a later interview, Haridopolos said both Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate are cautious of Scott’s proposal.
“The details are the key,” he said. “Where we find common ground is we’re going to spend $3.6 billion less.”
While budget cuts are the legislature’s first priority, tax relief may be up for discussion after state spending is slashed, he said.
“We’re not going to raise taxes,” he said. “We can’t afford it, and people can’t afford it.”
Haridopolos also responded to questions about potential cuts to the state’s education system. Earlier this week, Gov. Scott released his budget proposal, which called for the state to trim education spending by $3.3 billion.
He argued that a quality education system does not exclusively rely on the amount of funding, but how it is used. Florida spends almost $7,000 per student, Haridopolos said, and the state should direct that money into classrooms to support teachers.
Daniel Sibol, a UF freshman, expressed concern over the senator’s comments on education reform. While Haridopolos discussed the importance of causing change from the bottom up for health care, Sibol said his education recommendations would embrace a top-down mentality rather than welcome teachers as important players in the decision-making process.
Haridopolos also advocated pension reform for state employees to ensure that Floridians aren’t burdened with those expenses, as well as Medicaid reform similar in spirit to the national welfare reforms made in the mid-1990s.
Eden Joyner, a third-year political science and public relations major, submitted a question asking for Haridopolos’ stance on a bill supporting students’ right to carry guns on college campuses.
He didn’t explicitly support the bill but admitted his sympathy as a National Rifle Association member toward the right for citizens to carry weapons.
He suggested students visit Tallahassee to testify before state legislators or protest to voice their concerns about the measure.