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Thursday, February 18, 2010

“Rapping With the Reps” Coley and Drake Headline Q&A Session at 1st Friday Breakfast

By Sid Riley

For about one hour our two elected State Representatives engaged in an open dialogue with the First Friday Chamber Breakfast attendees on February 5. State Senator Al Lawson was initially scheduled to also participate, but scheduling problems arose. Century Link was the host company for the event.

Some of the questions and answers given are presented below:

Q, ( Doug Mayo) – Many State funded programs and grants are in danger of being reduced or cut….what do you see as approaches that could be used to increase funding?

A, (Drake) – We are to a point in today’s economy where government should not consider raising taxes or taking any action which takes more money from the citizens to support government.

A, (Coley) – Focus this year must be on steps to stimulate our economy, not raise costs.

Q, (Elaine Thompson) – Illegal aliens are costing Florida taxpayers millions of dollars in added burden on our medical entitlement systems and in education. What do you feel should be done about this situation?

A, (Drake) – If you are an illegal, you shouldn’t be allowed to be here. The added costs are not fair to the taxpayers of Florida. First, the federal government needs to begin enforcing the laws.

A, (Coley) – I agree, the Federal government has to begin enforcing immigration laws. However, it is a very complex issue. There are industry workforce issues…however, the added costs are very significant.

Q, (Betty Duffee) - The contract the Governor made with the Indian nations which allows gaming on the reservations is supposed to help fund education. Do you feel this has been done properly?

A, (Coley) – The existing level of funding provided by that contract is far too low. If we are going to allow the gambling there, the State should insist on more revenues from the gambling.

Q, (Mr. Pizza) – Our community has serious problems relating to the cost of electricity here. What can be done in Tallahassee to help resolve this situation?

A, (Drake) – It is not just in Jackson County, it is state wide. Plus we have had an exceptionally cold winter. As legislators there is little we can do.

A, (Coley) – I have received many calls on this problem. I have talked with FPU officials at the corporate level about the situation. They are attempting to renegotiate the terms of their purchasing contract with Gulf Power in order to see if any relief can be achieved. Also we both met with the Gulf Power executives and made them aware of the severity of the problem for customers.

Q, (Homer Hirt) – What is being done to create more flexibility for local educators instead of being totally focused on FCAT scores?

A, (Coley) – We are hoping to soon replace FCAT at the high school level and move to a system based on achievement, where college bound students would be required to achieve higher levels of advancement than students moving into vocational areas.

A, (Drake) – We need to move toward reducing the amount of bureaucracy directing our educators, and empower them to do the job at the local level.

Q, (Byron Ward) – Some of the problems we are having with electrical rates involve actions of the Public Service Commission. Is there any effort to review problems in this area?

A, (Drake) – The legislature authorizes the PSC to rule in this area, and that is as far as our authority extends.

Q, (Ernest McNeal) – State employees have not had a raise in three years. Do you see any hope for an increase in the coming budget?

A, (Coley) – This was a huge issue during negotiations last year. Initially they proposed a 4% cut for state employees, not a raise. However, we were able to avoid that action.

A, (Drake) – State employees are fortunate to keep their jobs. The private sector has been forced to make drastic reductions in staffing in order to survive. That level of action has not occurred within the bureaucracy so far.

Q, (Gene Strickland) – Last year the transportation trust fund was raided by the legislature to help fill budget shortfalls. Do you feel that practice should be illegal?

A, (Drake) – I strongly disagree with the action of raiding trust funds. The public was told those taxes were enacted to provide that specific service, and then the money is later taken and used for something else. This is, in effect, lying to the public.

(A) (Coley) – This is an issue on which myself and Mr. Drake disagree. If a family has set up a budget and finds an emergency need for something else, say a needed medicine, they may take some money from their food budget to buy that medicine. The same situation is true for the State. If educational funding has an emergency, and money is sitting in a trust fund, I feel it is a wise decision to use that money and pay it back at a later date. If we had not taken that action, there would have been severe cuts to education, health, and many other areas.

Q, (Mr. Richardson) – Do you think Dozier will be closed? What can be done to prevent that from happening?

A, (Drake) – I would fight for Dozier. It is a very important employer for this county, and we can not allow it to be lost.

A, (Coley) – I spoke yesterday with the Governor and this issue came up. He said that there were some issues at Dozier and if they couldn’t be resolved, closing might be necessary. I told him that we should solve the issues…that closing was not the solution. Those boys have to be kept somewhere, and Dozier would be the best place. As a community we must all unite in a loud voice that supports Dozier. It is a very, very important part of our community here.

At that point the allotted time expired, and the representatives made closing remarks. Both stated that the coming budget year was going to be tough to work with, and achieving a balanced budget was going to involve making a lot of difficult choices. However, they both stated that focusing on improving our economies, economic development, and jobs creation have to be the areas where the most attention is focused.

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