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House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford laments ‘missed opportunities’ in budget

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A final vote on the record-breaking $79 billion budget Friday evening brought a disappointing end to Florida’s 2015 Legislative Session, according to House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford.

“I think of all the missed opportunities,” said the West Palm Beach Democrat, who faces term limits in 2016.

“As much as this budget funds many good programs and projects, he added. “Our issue is with what might have been.”

The House passed a last-minute spending plan 96-17 at just about 6 p.m., a half-hour after it was approved by the Senate. Highlights of the General Appropriations Act of 2015 include a $780 million increase for public schools.

“Despite record spending, this budget does not translate into bold initiatives for a better Florida,” Pafford said in a statement marking the end of the 20-day special session. “This plan represents more of the same from Republican leadership that spent more time fighting with each other than it did offering true progress to the people of this state.”

Pafford continued:

“Partisan House Republicans rejected an opportunity to expand access to responsible, sustainable health care to more than 800,000 uninsured Floridians. Because of this refusal to consider what is best for the state there are plenty of missed opportunities in this budget – from the failure to draw down billions in federal dollars, the refusal to realize the hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to state general revenue and, most importantly, the extended suffering of hundreds of thousands of working Floridians who will continue to live with the anxiety and health consequences of no coverage.

“Of course, more money for education is welcome. However, it’s discouraging that per-pupil spending could not reach even the funding included in the House version of the budget, in large part because of House Republicans’ rejection of expanded health care.

“Lest we forget, this budget is about more than dollars. It’s also about choices, and in this regard increased school spending comes mostly on the backs of middle-class property taxpayers. Some will crow about $427 million in tax cuts, and the portion of that package benefiting working people in the state is commendable. However, it’s offset by the $425 million in property tax increases for education.

“I think this Legislature also missed an opportunity to preserve and protect Florida’s environment as much as we could have, while, at the same time, thwarting voters’ clear direction.

“Conservation can mean different things to different people, but it seems to me directing Amendment 1 spending so that one in five dollars goes to salaries while only one in 50 goes to our Florida Forever conservation program is a slap in the face to voters.”

Despite the unsatisfactory end of the 2015 session, Pafford remains optimistic. He hopes the missed opportunities of the newly passed budget can “turn into progress” for next year.

“Committee meetings for our next session begin in 90 days,” he concluded, “and House Democrats will be back at work for the middle-class people of Florida.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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