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House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford responds to State of State

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, is the House Democratic leader. Here are his remarks in response to Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address. Watch him here.

Hello, I’m Mark Pafford from West Palm Beach. It’s my honor to serve as Democratic Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.

I’m glad to be here to offer our response to Governor Rick Scott’s State of the State.

The start of the Legislature is always an exciting time for me. It’s especially true this year as we look forward to making Florida a better place to work and live. We want to address your concerns: How to get ahead. How to give your children a great future. How to take care of your family’s health and safety.

We’ve noticed how Governor Scott and Republicans are finally hearing the people. It’s the same thing Democrats have been saying all along.

Governor Scott last week tapped the brakes on some tests our students are forced to take. Let’s fix testing. These tests are so stressful for our children and take up too much teaching time.

We’ve heard you all along. It’s exactly what we feared would happen during long debate about these bad laws.

Our public schools should meet high standards. Measuring progress is important. Let’s do it within reason.

We also think funding public schools is important.

Did you know about half the money for education the governor has in his budget comes from local property taxpayers? It used to be different. Not long ago the state picked up 60 percent of school funding. The governor’s budget has close to a 400 million dollar increase in property taxes to allow him to brag about his plan.

We think you should get the credit you deserve and we also think the state should pick up more of that tab and give local taxpayers a break.

And health care. Some Republicans and big-business groups have said Florida should take money now going to other states. If we do that, we can expand health care coverage and solve some tough budget choices. It would also provide care for more than 800,000 Floridians who currently rely on emergency rooms for primary health care.

It’s the smart thing to do. Business groups see that. More and more Republicans see that. House Democrats have been saying so all along.

There’s another reason it’s smart. Even though the federal government has said it’s going to stop sending one billion dollars to Florida, Governor Scott included that money in his own budget. It could leave a billion-dollar hole.

There is good news. Using federal money under the Affordable Care Act would save lives. It would provide other savings for the state and help so many people. We’ve been saying this all along and maybe this is the year it’s heard.

In November I heard voters. Statewide, 75 percent of Floridians said our beautiful environment is very important to them. They said the state should keep its promises and protect our land and water.

Look, this is really important to me. I love the Everglades. I love our incredible springs. The Florida Panther? Manatees? It’s what makes Florida special. For as long as I’ve been in the Legislature I’ve asked for more money to protect the environment. Now, voters have insisted Republican leadership listen.

I hope they’ll listen to the voters and spend that money on conservation and protection of our land and water.

It’s really about the future and making sure we all can do better. Of course, the governor talks about jobs. We’re happy the whole country’s economy has improved, along with Florida’s. We’re glad the governor can travel around the world in his own private jet.

But you know what? Quality matters, too. Democrats think it’s important to focus on bringing good jobs with good pay to the state. More than 45 percent of households in our state struggle to pay the bills from month to month? We hear you. We hope Republicans hear us this session. We look forward to the work ahead.

It’s our honor to represent you as Democrats in the Florida House. We’re going to keep speaking truth and fighting for what we think is right for you. Who knows, maybe Republicans are even ready to listen and act.