Haridopolos on prison privatization, gambling and jobsby Dara Kam | October 6th, 2011
Senate President Mike Haridopolos defended lawmakers’ use of the budget to privatize an 18-county region from Polk County to the Florida Keys, said there would be a floor vote on an expansion of gambling and bragged about the state’s job growth in a Q-and-A with reporters this afternoon.
The Merritt Island Republican provided a detailed document to reporters as proof that talks about the nation’s largest prison privatization effort – now on hold after a Tallahassee circuit judge’s ruling that the way the legislature went about it was unconstitutional – had taken place in committees since January and not snuck into the budget at the last minute, as he said unnamed critics have implied. Although privatization was discussed at the meetings, lawmakers did not vote on or release details of any prison privatization plan until it was included in the state budget.
“I wanted to be very clear for those people who had concerns that this was something we stuck in late. This was addressed early and often and people all saw it coming both in the House and the Senate,” Haridopolos said.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents correctional workers, sued Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over the privatization, put by lawmakers into the budget in proviso language and signed into law by Scott this summer. Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford agreed with the union that the use of the proviso language to establish state policy was unconstitutional.
Scott has not yet decided whether to appeal but has said the privatization will happen eventually. And Haridopolos on Thursday said that the privatization will go forward, even if lawmakers have to pass a stand-alone bill when they reconvene in January. The proposal requires that the privatization of 29 prisons in the region cost at least 7 percent less than what the state currently spends – an estimated $22 million annual savings.
“I think the policy’s a good policy. We’re going to face another massive budget shortfall this year. And we’re going to spend more money on prisons and if we do we’ll spend less on education and health care,” Haridopolos said. “I guess other people have other priorities. My priority is to spend less on prisons.”
Haridopolos also said his chamber will vote on a proposal to expand gambling in Florida. Earlier in the day, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling allowing slots at Hialeah Racetrack and permitting the legislature to expand gambling instead of requiring voter approval.
The First District Court of Appeals decision opened the door for “destination resort” legislation proposed by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and backed by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. The proposal would allow three resort casinos to open in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where voters have already approved slot machines, and require bidders to invest at least $2 billion in each facility.
“You’re going to see an up or down vote on the Senate floor on this,” Haridopolos said, pointing out that Florida is one of the top four states in the nation for gambling. “We’ll have to see what the House chooses to do. But we are a gambling state.”
Haridopolos also displayed a chart entitled “Headed in the Right Direction” showing a drop in the state’s government jobs and an increase of more than 87,000 private-sector jobs, a net gain of more than 71,600 jobs since January, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Scott, who campaigned for governor with a pledge of bringing 700,000 new jobs to the state in seven years, has also taken credit for the drop in government jobs and private-sector job growth.
Haridopolos sidestepped a question about who was responsible for the job figures – the governor or the legislature.
But, he said, “I hope no politician’s taking credit for it’s their jobs.”