Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature installed new leaders on Tuesday in a jovial, ceremonial atmosphere where both men promised to work cordially with fellow legislators while making few promises about their next two years in office.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was selected as Senate president, while Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was chosen as House speaker.
The two legislators take over with Republicans still in firm control of state government after Gov. Rick Scott and all three Republican members of the Cabinet won new terms. Republicans also hold a super-majority in the 120-member House, meaning they can waive the rules and move legislation regardless of Democratic opposition.
Neither Gardiner nor Crisafulli made any bold declarations about their plans. But they did give hints about their agendas, which may clash with the ones promised on the campaign trail by incumbent Gov. Rick Scott.
Gardiner repeated a warning that Amendment 1, a newly approved measure which dedicates a portion of real estate taxes to environmental programs, could result in spending cuts to other parts of the state’s $73 billion budget. Voters approved the ballot initiative overwhelmingly this month.
“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner pointed out that because legislators had set aside money for tax cuts and increased school spending in the past year, the surplus expected in 2015 would be slightly more than $300 million. He said that meant there would be “less money” available when legislators draw up a new budget during their annual session next spring.
While seeking a second term, Scott promised to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and to boost school spending to record levels.
Crisafulli promised in his speech to work with Democrats, but told reporters the House would likely continue to oppose the expansion of Medicaid, a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said he will take Crisafulli at his word – for now.
“You start every session and there’s a completely new leaf you turn over and there’s no reason to doubt, necessarily, that they’re going to do anything other than what they say,” Pafford said. “If we do this interview next year, we’ll see how things are. Hopefully, it will be the same.”
Gardiner, 45, is a native of Orlando who is vice president of external affairs and community relations for Orlando Health. The highlight of his selection as Senate president was when he was surprised at the sight of his 7-year-old daughter Joanna singing the national anthem.
A seventh-generation Floridian, the 43-year-old Crisafulli was presented with a gavel made from orange trees from his family grove. Crisafulli has worked in real estate and agriculture and his extended family includes a former governor and former chief justice for the state Supreme Court.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.