POLITICS - State Representative Martin Kiar on Legislative Session
By Bill Johnson / January - April, 2011

Currently in his third term, Democrat Martin Kiar serves in the House of Representatives in the Florida Legislature. He represents Parkland, Coral Springs and seven other communities. A resident of Davie, where he lives with his wife, Representative Kiar practices law with his father. He maintains a district legislative office in Parkland at Parkland City Hall.

Rep. Kiar recently talked with the Parklander about the upcoming session. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Question: Florida has a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. As a Democrat, what are your objectives going into this session?

Rep. Kiar: "Democrats and Republicans both have good ideas and I believe that, if we work together, we can pass legislation that is good for the state. The way a Democrat like myself gets something done is by reaching across the aisle. For the most part, we agree on 99 per cent of the proposals."
Question: The governor has vowed to cut five per cent of the state employees. Do you think that is practical? Is it something you can support?

Rep. Kiar: "It's always important to streamline government programs. If there's duplication, you should cut some of the duplication. But when the governor comes out and says he wants to blatantly cut five per cent of the state workforce, I can't support that without more details from him."

Question: The governor campaigned on a promise to cut property taxes. Because of sagging real estate values, property taxes have been reduced and government entities are taking in less money. Do you think property taxes can be reduced even more?

Rep.Kiar: "I've always supported a reduction in property taxes. I believe it's important to put more money in people's pockets. I also believe we need to hold certain taxes harmless -- like the required local effort in school taxes. Florida has one of the most poorly funded school systems in the country. I don't want to misquote him, but I think the governor said he wants to cut the required local effort by 19 per cent. That cut would have a huge and devastating impact on our children. But I will look at the reduction of other taxes.

"I am passionate about education. It has been my honor to lead the Democratic caucus on all kindergarten to twelfth grade education issues. This year I serve on a number of education committees. I believe so strongly that the most important thing we can do is provide our children with the best education possible. I believe with all my heart that, if we fully fund our education system and give the children the education they deserve, this will be the economic engine that drives us down the road and we won't find ourselves in another recession."

Question: Will more money be required for education?

Rep.Kiar: "This year we will focus mostly on the budget. We have a four or five billion dollar deficit. The biggest areas are education and health care, so that means there may be reductions in them. It would be easy for me to yell and scream about what the Republicans are doing. But I don't plan on doing that. I'd like us to go through the budget together and find a way to balance the budget in a way that is the least detrimental to our children."

Question: Will there be an effort to increase the school voucher system?

Rep.Kiar: "That's what Governor (Rick) Scott wants to do. He wants to provide vouchers for all children, regardless of who they are, regardless of income or disability. That is not something I can support.

"I know there are a lot of Republicans who can't support it and I'll tell you why. It would devastate our public school system. Public schools in Parkland would be half empty because students utilized their vouchers to attend private schools. It would be a big cost burden on our state and counties. The current voucher program helps low-income children and children with disabilities, but if every student could have a voucher, all those (private school) seats would be taken up and there wouldn't be a seat for students with disabilities and low incomes.

"I don't mean to criticize the governor, but he seems to be throwing out big ideas, and I don't know if he really understands the implications of them. And I hope that he learns as he goes along."

Question: The unemployment rate remains high. Can anything be done about it?

Rep.Kiar: "Most important, we could decrease some regulations on small business to encourage them to come to Florida. Overall, though, the way out of this recession won't be government. It's up to private businesses to get us out of this. What we have to do as Democrats is to find common ground with the Republicans to give our businesses an opportunity to thrive."

Question: A recent report showed that nearly a million Floridians are getting food stamps -- an increase of about 200,000 people in the past year. How does that relate to your interest in this legislative session?

Rep. Kiar: "What's important is that we take care of these folks who need help. If a family is on food stamps, or a person is looking for work and can't find it, I think we need to provide for those folks and help them. I think we have a moral obligation to do that."

Question: How do you feel about funding a high-speed rail project?

Rep. Kiar: "I'm very much in favor of high-speed rail. I think it's a big job creator. I voted for it in the legislation last year. The way I see it, the federal government pays for most of it, and we don't get much of a hit to our budget."

Question: Do you have a final comment?

Rep.Kiar: "The budget shortfall has to be addressed. I believe we have to do that in a bi-partisan way. There are 120 members of the house. When only a few people make decisions, this is not a good thing. I believe 120 minds are better than ten or fifteen. I'm hopeful that the Republicans will allow us Democrats to work with them and that my party will be willing to work across the aisle. With 120 minds, we can figure it out and balance the budget in the best interest of the public.

"We're not career politicians. When I'm term-limited or the people decide I shouldn't be there anymore, I just want to go home and say I did the best that I could and I helped a whole lot of people. That's my goal."

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