BRADENTON -- Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford sees great things in the state's future.
"Florida is on an amazing streak. Really exciting things are happening in Florida," the Wesley Chapel Republican said Thursday at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Bradenton Country Club.
He called Florida's economic climate one of the best in the country.
"Politics is a tough game, but economic freedom doesn't pay for itself. It takes sacrifice. It takes work," he said.
"And the reason Florida is roaring back is because we have created a pocket of freedom that is one of the most advantageous to do business in America and maybe even the world."
Weatherford defended the recent session of the Legislature, which was criticized for not voting to participate in the federal Affordable Care Act -- passing up an estimated $51 million.
"No matter what the newspaper said, we had a very successful session," he said. "We want everybody to have some form of insurance."
The problem is paying for it, Weatherford said.
In 1991, Florida had 900,000 people on Medicaid, costing $4 billion a year, he said. Today, 3.3 million Floridians are on Medicaid, which costs $23 billion.
"It is a runaway freight train when it come to our budget," he said. "Imagine expanding it to another 900,000 to a million people."
Weatherford called the Affordable Care Act a bait-and-switch ploy.
"They say, 'We're going to pay for it for the first six to eight years, 100 percent up front. And then, after a while, we'll just figure it out,'" he said.
"We're setting ourselves up by creating a new entitlement for people without any real way of knowing how we're going to pay for it. If we can hold true ... and not build a dependency state, but build an opportunity state, 20 years from now we will be the shining light of this country."
Other Weatherford comments:
Weatherford noted work to enlarge the Panama Canal will mean increased opportunity for all of Florida's ports, including Port Manatee. "The challenge is the division of the resources," he said to a question about aid from Tallahassee from County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle.
Large ports such as Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville will carry most of the load in expanding to handle the new generation of super-sized cargo ships. Smaller ships will be looking for alternative ports. "Your proximity to Tampa is both a good thing and a bad thing. I think it could be a great opportunity. I would encourage the Port of Manatee to work very closely with Tampa to create alliances."
Weatherford defended approving $30 million in "pre-eminence" funding to help the University of Florida and Florida State University improve their national rankings among research universities. "Sad to say, I would call our university system an average system compared to other parts of the county -- but we have a chance to be great. And we just have to be sure we invest our resources the right way to get there."
On the texting while driving ban: "It's going to save a lot of lives. When you look at the data, it's a very dangerous thing."
Jim DeLa, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.