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Statewide Protests Mark Legislature’s Start

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Florida Legislature. (Source: AP)

Florida Legislature. (Source: AP)

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MIAMI (CBS4) – Tuesday may become known as the beginning of the protests. Thirty-two of them were held across Florida Tuesday, including downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as the Florida legislature began its session.

Badili Jones, one of the organizers of the “Awake the State” campaign told CBS4’s David Sutta they had to make noise because legislatures are moving quickly.

“We are just talking about fairness and equity in the state of Florida,” Jones said. “The wealthy should not get away with what regular people have to do.”

The debate over fairness stems from newly elected Governor Rick Scott’s budget. It calls for billions in cuts, much on the backs of the state’s 600,000 employees, education, and the unemployed.

Scott proposes eliminating 85 hundred jobs. A bill moving through the House would slash unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.

But the biggest cut would be to state employees who would now be required to pay 5% of their salary toward pensions.

“Teachers in this state are simply demoralized.” Dr. David Kirsner, a teacher at Coral Gables High School explained.

Kirsner said some teachers are in tears over the proposal; here’s why.

The average teacher makes $46,000. The 5% hit would cut out $2300 dollars from their paycheck. In return, Miami-Dade homeowners would get on average, $70 off their property tax bill. The more your house cost the more you would save.

Some teachers, in their fourth year of cuts, are now debating leaving the profession.

Kirsner said, “I had a teacher, maybe a week ago come to my door literally in tears. She said to me, ‘Dr. K what am I going to do? I cannot afford any more cuts. If they take 5% of my salary, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills.”

And teachers are not alone. Social worker Manual Fernandez Jacobs has 29 years on the job in Miami-Dade County.

“At the end of the game they are changing the rules. I have two young daughters that are counting on my retirement and my pension and my salary.” Fernandez said.

At a rally in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday evening, hundreds of protesters showed up to voice their frustrations.

Jerry Hall, a Vietnam veteran, is concerned about Scott’s plan to cut millions from the Florida Department of Veteran’s Affairs. He said it’s not fair to cut services for veterans while offering tax breaks to businesses.

“We’ve been giving tax cuts to corporations and rich people for 10 years,” Hall said. “They said they were going to create jobs. Well, they did — in China, India, Vietnam.”

Dozens of Scott supporters — many of them Tea Party members — rallied across the street. They say in tough economic times, everyone has to sacrifice.

“The government class needs to share the burden, the responsibility when our economy is suffering,” said Charles Robertson.

Scott’s supporters believe teachers and other public employees should be asked to contribute to their pensions, just like private sector employees do with 401k’s.

“People in the private sector have actually been taking pay cuts, being forced to pay more into their health insurance, if not pay it all,” said Annie Young. “Those conditions were either do it or lose your job.”

With 59 days to decide the budget, state employees are vowing not to let up. Many of Tuesday’s protestors were planning on boarding busses and taking overnight trips to Tallahassee. Another round of protests are planned for Wednesday.

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