Gov. Rick Scott's policies keep the Sunshine State's middle class under economic siege, liberal groups asserted Wednesday.
With state budget cuts and tighter unemployment benefits, Florida's latest legislative session put more of a strain on the middle class, according to a report by Demos and the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy.
Advocates from the groups urged Tallahassee and Washington to spend more government funds in order to revive the economy.
"Instead of turning to proven strategies of investment and infrastructure, we're continuing on this path of short-term deficit reduction," said Tamara Draut, a vice president at Demos, which advocates for voting rights and a larger public sector.
The presentation titled "Under Attack: Florida's Middle Class and the Jobs Crisis" adds more fodder to the main political debate of the day: will more government spending help or hurt the economy? The White House is feuding with Congress over how to extend the nation's cap on deficit spending, with Republicans insisting on spending cuts and Democrats pushing to cushion cost savings with more tax revenue.
A spokesman for Scott, who campaigned on leaner government as a boon to business, rejected the notion that the governor's agenda is hurting the middle class.
"I think Gov. Scott is doing some great things for the middle class. Job creation to start off," said spokesman Lane Wright.
He noted Florida added 28,000 jobs in May, slightly higher than the net gain across the country for that month, which was recently revised down from 54,000 to 25,000. He credited Scott's promises to cut red tape in Tallahassee and roll back needless regulation. "People are getting the message that Florida is willing and ready to do business, and are bringing those job creators into the state," he said.
The "Under Attack" report notes that in Florida, the top 5 percent of earners saw their income increase 54 percent since 1986, compared to a 17 percent gain for the middle 20 percent. It said only six states have a wider income gap than Florida does.
The report also said Florida stands out for its lack of labor unions, with just under 6 percent of the state's workers organized compared to the national average of 12 percent. Emily Eisenhauer, of the Research Institute, cited anti-union bills pursued in Tallahassee as part of Florida's assault on the working people.
"The actions in the Legislature that have made it more difficult for unions are not helpful for the middle class," she said.
Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, majority leader for Republicans in the Florida House, dismissed the idea that more unions will help the recovery.
"I personally believe unions exist to perpetuate unions," he said. "A union will never be satisfied. They will always want more."