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Atwater: Times of Great Flux Mark Session Opener

Saying the Senate would focus on primarily on tightening the state’s belt – and pushing the federal government to do the same - in his last session in office, Senate President Jeff Atwater opened the 2010 legislative session Tuesday.

Focusing heavily on setting a tone to match what he called “times of great civic, political and economic flux,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, told senators that they should consider the seeming mood of the electorate as they proceed this session.

“I have a sense that future historians will look back on this moment in time and identify a fundamental shift in the attitudes and assumptions of the American people, a time when we came to realize that we had strayed from the virtues that formed us, a time when we chose to abandon the banquet table and return to the kitchen table, when the shallow allure of the high life gave way to the heartfelt connections of family life,” he said.

But Atwater told the lawmakers that they should not just fear the political currents while they are in Tallahassee for the next 60 days. Instead, he said, they should turn their focus toward delivering services to their constituents more efficiently and eliminating unnecessary programs.

“Our fellow Floridians will not tolerate clever sophistry, or arcane argument,” Atwater said. “They want clear and unambiguous responses from their elected officials; responses upon which confidence, faith and trust can be rebuilt and restored.”

Atwater, a candidate for chief financial officer, touted his resolution with House Speaker Larry Cretul calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget as a way that confidence can be rebuilt.

“The Florida Legislature is constitutionally bound to balance its budget; the United States Congress should be no less bound to those same principles of fiscal discipline,” Atwater said.

He also told the Senate that the challenges before it fit well in Florida’s history, saying “Florida was not built on government programs, it was carved out of a seemingly insurmountable wilderness.”

When he did turn to policy in his session opening remarks, Atwater pushed the Senate to pass a jobs bill and approve a proposed constitutional amendment to alter the provision mandating that public school classes are capped at a certain size.

Of the class size amendment, which passed in 2002, Atwater said enough time had elapsed for lawmakers to ask voters to reassess the requirement, even if they agreed with its intent. The measure began moving in the House and the Senate before the beginning of the 2010 session, and Atwater said he hoped to see it win final approval.

“Having now been afforded a window of time through which reasonable people have been able to carefully evaluate the impact of that amendment, it is now clear that this state can benefit from maintaining the basic intent of class size while slightly modifying its structure,” he said. “Such an action would permit us to deploy scarce resources in much more meaningful ways and to produce much more lasting outcomes.”

Atwater closed his speech, however, by returning to his theme of being mindful of the difficulties facing the people who elected the audience for his remarks Tuesday.

“It falls clearly within our purview to be remembered as the heirs of the pioneering spirit that shaped our land, to demonstrate faith in our past and confidence in our future, to be that group of senators who acted with conviction when the foundation of our economy was under duress,” he said. “I have seen that will to perform in the past and I know the citizens of Florida have chosen the right leadership to restore fiscal common sense and rediscover the economic balance that served our greatest generations well.”

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