Sen. Bennett forecasts rough Fla. seas ahead

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Florida legislators cut $2.3 billion from the budget in the recent special session and must double those cuts in the upcoming regular session.

That’s the grim forecast delivered by Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, to members of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club on Friday at the Lakewood Ranch Country Club.

“When you come to events like this you would usually say it’s an honor and privilege to speak to you as a state senator,” Bennett said. “It’s still an honor, but it’s no longer a privilege.”

Getting to be the bearer of miserable news is no fun, Bennett inferred.

But there might be a chance to make some lemonade from these lemons.

Bennett talked of a chance for a governmental “cleansing of waste and duplicity” as the good thing that could emerge from the upcoming session.

The senator talked of the chance to eliminate the state’s development of regional impact program which, typically, requires three to five years of study before rendering decisions on large projects.

“Why,” Bennett asked, “are there four offices in Manatee County dealing with foster children? Why not have one office, one set of phones and put more money in the program.”

Traffic concurrency rules may also be eliminated as well as the voluntary pre-kindergarten program, Bennett said.

Another area of waste, Bennett said, exists in the prison system.

Bennett said that Florida spends $100 million per prison and is projected to need 19 more prisons over the next couple of decades.

Bennett claims that eliminating illegal immigrants from prisons will cut two and a half prisons from the state’s prison needs.

Bennett supports supplying airplane tickets home to the illegal immigrant prisoners who have committed “soft” crimes.

Bennett also told the Republicans that he plans to introduce a bill requiring anyone who wants unemployment benefits to pass a random drug test.

He said he was pleased with the creation of the first-ever economic stimulus committee that will rush bills right to the floor that hold the prospect of increasing business in Florida.

And that got the Senator filibustering a bit about why Florida makes it so difficult for companies to exist here.

He referenced the loss of boating businesses in Manatee County.

Chris-Craft, Bennett claimed, told him it took two years to get a permit for a new building in Manatee County.

Chris-Craft officials told Bennett they got a permit to build in 30 days in North Carolina.

“In Alabama, I have heard, state officials told a business owner to break ground and they would catch up to him later. They want the business in those states,” Bennett said.

Bennett voiced displeasure that bail-out programs never offer help to individual citizens, many of whom are losing their homes.

He says many banks still won’t work out terms with clients who are struggling.

Gambling in Florida and cigarette taxes are two things he is “willing to look at.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.