The next president of the Florida Senate is calling for an extra billion dollars in spending on the state’s universities, calling them “special, exceptional places.”
State Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, was formally elected president for 2016-18 in a Wednesday designation ceremony of the chamber’s GOP caucus. Republicans outnumber Democrats 26-14. He will succeed current President Andy Gardiner after the 2016 Legislative Session.
His selection capped off a nearly 2-year-long neck-and-neck and often contentious race between him and Sen. Jack Latvala. The Clearwater Republican ended the race by conceding to Negron earlier this month and agreeing to become Senate budget chief during his term.
In his acceptance speech, the 54-year-old Negron laid out his leadership plan, including the billion-dollar spending boost in higher education. That would include money to recruit and retain faculty and refurbish or replace aging campus facilities.
Gov. Rick Scott has championed higher education as well, but also has desired significant tax cuts each year, including $1 billion in decreases for 2016-17.
Negron later told reporters he “talked to the governor” about his plan but didn’t say what his fellow Republican thought about it.
“I think we can do tax cuts that are reasonable and measured and also do some of the budget priorities,” Negron said.
“The governor believes strongly that our universities are an important part of our economic growth and development,” he added. “But I’m committed in ’17 and ’18 to adding an additional billion dollars to our universities.”
He also called for solving South Florida’s water pollution. The Indian River Lagoon estuary, along Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties, has long been tainted by agricultural-fertilizer runoff from nearby Lake Okeechobee.
But environmental advocates have been frustrated at the Legislature’s take on funding Amendment 1, the state’s constitutional provision passed last year that requires revenue from real estate taxes to be spent on the environment. This past session, lawmakers OK’d only $55 million to purchase property for conservation.
Negron said he was in favor of bonding, or borrowing money, to pay for conservation and remediation of the lake and its environs something House Republicans don’t want to do. “Land acquisition is not the only way to do it,” he said.
Negron, a lawyer in private practice, also said in his speech that Florida should stop “criminalizing adolescence.” He used the example of his pelting passing cars with water balloons as a teen.
“Today, we would have been arrested,” he said, adding that some juvenile matters can be handled outside traditional courtrooms. He mentioned civil citations for low-level offenses.
“We don’t want to stigmatize young people who made a poor judgment call,” he said, with the punishment “following them for the rest of their life.”
Negron concluded his speech with a reference to Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who spoke against the Nazi regime in the 1940s and was executed near the end of the war.
“May his life of courage inspire us as we represent the people of Florida,” Negron said.
The ceremony was capped off by a video clip of well wishes from Negron’s boyhood hero, Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy.