Dueling Rallies with Tea Party, Unions Sweep State as Legislature Gathers | Politics

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Dueling Rallies with Tea Party, Unions Sweep State as Legislature Gathers
Politics, Schools
Dueling Rallies with Tea Party, Unions Sweep State as Legislature Gathers

TAMPA, Fla. -- Groups from all over Florida are planning rallies Tuesday as the Legislature's session starts.

The Florida Legislature opens its 2011 session today, and it's shaping up to be a loud and confrontational time. Republicans carry a better than two-to-one majority in the Legislature. They may have big debates within the party over what to cut and how deeply.

Then there are the Democrats, who say the state is already struggling to meet its obligations to its people without any cuts.

Dozens of rallies were planned across Florida to protest broad budget cuts and push to protect unions.

"I really think they are after the corporate bottom line," said Lance King, who took the day off from work to protest in Tallahassee.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to trim state spending by $5 billion and phase in property and corporate tax cuts.

Retired Jacksonville school teacher Yvonne Worden made the trip to be a voice for children. "I'm here because children should not be short changed," she said, while holding a sign.

Scott is proposing to slash education funding by 10 percent and wants public employees to pick up part of their insurance and pension costs.

"The governor's budget is basically coming off the backs of the working class and working families and he's giving tax breaks to corporations that already pay...(among) the lowest in the country," Tampa Awake the State organizer Tim Heberlein said.

Among the proposals from the governor and Legislature that concern them: tying teachers' pay to test scores, new pension and health care contributions for all public employees, and the elimination of automatic payroll deductions for union dues.

Teacher Jan Wright of Sarasota is angry about cuts to education, so she traveled to Tallahassee on her spring break to send a message against the governor's plan to cut education by $3 billion next year.

"We can't afford to run the schools on the money we have now.  We're running on a shoestring.  We have no additional room to cut.  We're already cutting out the arts. My school does not have any music programs for students who are not in a specialized field and we're looking at cutting physical education and possibly arts classes, language classes.  We can't afford any more cuts." 

Those on the other side brought their message closer to the decision-makers' ears.

It was not the crowd of thousands that some had predicted, but several hundred Tea Party activists showed their support for Gov. Rick Scott and his mission to cut government spending, reduce the size of government and lower taxes. 

They waved signs such as, "No Obamacare in Florida" and "Parasite pensions."  Scott and Republican lawmakers are leading an effort to reform Florida's pension system, which they argue is too generous for public employees.

"We need to take charge of the budget and bring things under control," said Betty James, who supports the governor's plan that would have state employees contribute to their insurance and pensions.

Scott made an unannounced appearance at the Tea Party rally and got a roaring ovation. He told them he was fighting for less government and lower taxes.

"Are we changing the country?  You are doing it, showing up at things like this, you are changing the country because people are listening to what you're doing whether it's Wisconsin, or New Jersey or Ohio or Texas, you're changing the country."

Scott told the Tea Party members to make sure they pressure lawmakers to do what they were  elected to do.

"Less government, right? Lower taxes. No high speed rail.  It's your money.  We're going to follow the constitution.  We're going to watch spending like a hawk. It's your money."

The line drew thunderous applause from the crowd, including Mary Bishop who said she traveled from Ocala to show her support for the governor.

"He's taking all the heat and he's standing firm.  We need somebody who stands up for the values they believe in and doesn't go from one side to the other."

Across the street, Lance King held up an anti-Tea Party sign reading, "Florida is drowning in tea." 

He said he thinks state government has been taken over by conservative ideologues who don't understand the value of shared sacrifice for schools and infrastructure.

"This is the most under taxed start in the nation practically.  For us to enjoy the quality of life that we've had up to this point, we're going to have to take a cold hard look at some point at taxes because we don't have the revenues to support this government." 

The governor this evening will detail his vision for Florida in his State of the State speech.

It's designed to promote serious cuts to the state budget, which is 3 1/2 billion dollars out of balance; also to drown out Democrats; and to keep conservatives honest, too, said Karen Jaroch, an organizer with the Tampa 9-12 Project.

"We're here to also give a backbone to our legislators that committed in the campaign that they were going to make some bold changes and we just want to hold them to that," said Jaroch.

While the Save Our State rally will take place in Tallahassee, some Awake the State rallies will be held in the First Coast area.

On the First Coast today:

  • St. Johns teachers, sign waving, 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m., 312 and U.S.1 and State Route 16 at Publix
  • St. Johns County School Board Meeting, 6 p.m., 40 Orange St., St. Augustine 
  • Awake the State in Clay County, 4 p.m.-6 p.m., corner of Blanding Boulevard and Kingsley Avenue (Kmart parking lot), wear red and bring signs. Contact lea.rhoden@gmail.
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