Legislator on warpath over plans to expand

February 26, 2008 10:37 PM
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Staff & wire reports | Just days before the start of the annual state Legislative session, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio railed against Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposals to expand gambling and the lottery to balance the budget, according to the Miami Herald-Tribune.

Rubio, R-West Miami, said Saturday that he does not believe expanding either one will produce the revenue the state is looking for.

But more importantly, he said it is wrong to attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the working class.

He said that in this rough economy, those are the people most likely to be lured into casinos and the lottery in search of a remedy for their financial troubles.

"One of the temptations in times like this is to reach for false promises," Rubio said. "And that is what gambling is."

Rubio made the comments just minutes before speaking to about 300 people at the Manatee County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner in downtown Bradenton.

Money raised from the $100-per-person fundraiser went to the Republican Party.

The difficult economy and the resulting drop in revenues has state lawmakers grappling with an estimated $3 billion shortfall in the state budget.

Rubio, 36, says the budget problems must be solved with deep spending cuts that could mean eliminating whole government agencies. But Crist is looking for ways to boost state revenues to reduce the severity of the cuts Rubio is considering.

In his proposed budget, Crist counts on increasing lottery profits by about $250 million through more advertising, vending machines and other sales-boosting tactics.

And he is also counting on bringing in another $131 million from expanded gambling at Seminole Indian casinos. Crist signed a compact with the Seminoles to expand casino gambling, but the Legislature has challenged the deal in the Florida Supreme Court.

Rubio said both sources of revenue are "predatory" in nature and will not benefit the economy.

Instead, it will take money from locals who were going to spend their disposable income elsewhere.

It is simply "transferring" the spending from one area of the economy to another, he said.

Rubio told the audience that Republicans have to show leadership and stick to their principles of less government and lower taxes, instead of acting like Democrats.

Rubio warned that too many Republicans are willing to compromise on those values to seem popular and win the next election.

The state’s annual 60-day legislative session starts on March 4.

Rubio, the state’s first Cuban-American leader of the House, is finishing his eighth year in the House, the maximum allowed under the state’s term limits.