Officials at the James Madison Institute (JMI), a Tallahassee-based think tank that backs free-market solutions and increased liberty in the Sunshine State, said during a Thursday forum that, generally speaking, Florida lawmakers are moving the state in the right direction.
It is just plain refreshing to see the way this Legislature does its business, said William Mattox, a resident fellow at JMI. Noting his experience in Washington, Mattox contrasted the Legislature to Congress. Having to balance the budget forces the Legislature to deal with real issues.
Thomas Perrin, the public affairs director at JMI, pointed to the Legislatures accomplishments on expanding school choice.
It was a really big year for school-choice advocates, said Perrin who pointed to bills that passed expanding charter and virtual schools. Opportunity scholarships were brought back in play this year.
Mattox joined Perrin in praising the Legislature on educational reform, including pushing for basing teacher pay on performance instead of tenure, and in increasing educational flexibility by adding more charter schools and increasing the role of virtual schools.
Digital education is something that will increasingly play a role in the future, said Mattox, noting that students will have more options through online education.
Perrin also praised the Legislature for forwarding proposed state constitutional amendments -- including the Health Care Freedom Act, which would allow Floridians to opt out of the federal health-care law backed by President Barack Obama, and a measure replacing the current revenue limitations with a new model relying on inflation and population changes, and modeled on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed in Colorado and other states which its proponents maintain will help limit government spending.
Robert Sanchez, the policy director of JMI, reviewed those and other proposed amendments that emerged out of the Legislature.
Sanchez had kind words for the TABOR amendment. That might be a wise thing to do, he said, adding that local governments would be omitted under the amendment, which may prove harmful in the long term. Its unfair that the spending cap has not been applied to local government.
If 60 percent of the voters back the proposed amendments, they will be added to the state Constitution
The JMI staffers insisted that the Legislature left many issues on the table. Perrin said that lawmakers still need to offer paycheck protection for workers, move state employee pension plans over to a 401(k) model and reform Citizens Property and Casualty.
This state is an accomplice in getting political contributions that majority of which go to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, said Sanchez.
Noting that the Legislature voted to require state employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward their retirement plans, Mattox said more needed to be done to bring the Florida Retirement System in line with practices in the private sector.
Every year, the pension system is spewing promises we dont know if well be able to meet, insisted Mattox. We are saddling our children and grandchildren with promises.
Mattox called for the state to move forward a 401(k)-style system.
The employee will benefit, said Mattox. They will gain control over their own retirement.
The forum was held at the Columns -- a Tallahassee landmark which JMI purchased earlier in the year. Bob McClure, president and CEO, said renovations should be complete when the Legislature meets in January 2012 and that the new location will help his organization bring in speakers and hold other events in the future. McClure also noted that he hopes to include a studio for audio and visual recordings in the Columns to help JMI get out its message for greater freedom, and their solutions on how to provide them.
We continue to be a voice of liberty across the state of Florida, said McClure.
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