Funding for education is key for local legislators
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.
Residents ranging from University of Florida employees to Alachua County commissioners shared breakfast Wednesday with state representatives from the local legislative delegation, who answered questions and spoke about the upcoming year's challenges.
State representatives Keith Perry and Clovis Watson Jr., as well as state Sen. Rob Bradley, sat before a crowd of 70-plus Wednesday morning at Albert's Restaurant in the Hilton UF Conference Center. The event was part of the monthly UF Eye Opener Discovery Breakfast series. It began at 7:30 a.m. as attendees sporting nametags piled scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits onto their plates and snagged seats at tables scattered throughout the room.
During their opening comments, Bradley and Perry highlighted the importance of providing funding and support for UF. Perry said bolstering the university will help other state universities rise along with it.
Bradley emphasized the need for a strong UF, which he called "the flagship university of the state," if Florida wants to be competitive in the 21st century.
"I think that it goes beyond just us bleeding orange and blue," Bradley, a UF graduate, said of the importance of supporting the university.
The first inquiry during the breakfast's question-and-answer session concerned whether UF's state funding would be further diminished.
"I do think the dollars are available," Bradley said. "So I think you'll see a good session when it comes to education."
But he cautioned that other factors could impact the degree of funding the university and education overall will receive, including the debates over the debt ceiling and large-scale federal spending cuts looming before Congress in the wake of the fiscal cliff controversy.
Bradley also mentioned a pending Florida Supreme Court ruling over the current state requirement that hundreds of thousands of government employees allocate 3 percent of their salaries for their retirement as having a potential financial impact. If the court rules the requirement is unconstitutional, that would create a significant hole in the state budget, he said.
Watson said the Legislature must consider creative ways of funding education because, while important, it isn't the only priority. The state also needs to attract businesses to Florida to increase revenue because it can't keep pulling from the same funding pie, Watson said.
"We have to create more pies," he said.
Watson later emphasized the importance of finding ways to improve reclaimed water use throughout Florida in order to address the state's water supply problems.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell was the last attendee to speak during the Q&A session, but she offered a plea rather than a question. She asked the legislators to help improve funding for services related to mental illness both statewide and for Alachua County in particular. She said the issue of mental illness should be recognized as a key priority.
After the breakfast, she said the recent shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., "screams at us" that we need to focus attention and funding on helping families facing mental illness.
The Sheriff's Office handles incidents involving a person with mental illness issues every day and responds to an attempted suicide at least once a day, she said. Suicide is also a personal concern within the law enforcement community, where officials have high-risk, high-stress jobs.
"Our society just seems to be tearing apart at the seams with issues of mental health," she said.
Just as Darnell voiced her opinion on mental illness funding at the breakfast, all three state legislators encouraged the crowd to continue to come to them with their concerns.
"We really want to hear what you have to say," Perry said.
Although the local legislative delegation is smaller than others in the state, he told attendees they would be working hard in Tallahassee.
"We're limited in numbers, but we're going to fight," Perry said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 352-338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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