Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

Romano: Florida — a state with a Walmart sensibility

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Turns out, the similarities have been staring us in the face for years.

Price cuts = tax cuts.

Uninsured employees = uninsured residents.

No-frills merchandise = no-frills infrastructure.

Low wages = well, low wages.

Cheerful store greeter = Gov. Rick Scott.

It's obvious, isn't it? Florida is the Walmart of states.

Think about it. We're big. We're popular. And we're constantly talking about how cheap we are. It's as if we've ceded a higher class of living to those fancy-pants states with their mass transit, enviable education systems and high-tech jobs.

And, based on Scott's we-don't-need-no-stinking-revenue tour across the state, it doesn't look as if Florida will be Galleria-bound soon.

Because, in case you haven't noticed, the state has been bombarded recently with stories of critical agencies being treated like the remnants of a hostile takeover.

The Department of Corrections is a mess, with an audit citing a lack of training and dangerously low staffing levels. A judge last year blasted the Department of Health for failing to provide medical care for poor children.

Funding for disabled adults was cut last year, leaving families scrambling to find care. Alzheimer's patient care programs also were whacked.

A Tampa Bay Times/Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigation paints a frightening portrait of how mental health budget cuts have created chaos in state hospitals.

Florida is fourth in the nation in the percentage of uninsured residents, which means general revenue is diverted to pay massive hospital bills. And we're tied for last in the nation in the percentage of unemployment claims being paid out.

So in the face of all these budget shortfalls, and all of the suffering going on from the Panhandle to the Keys, what is Florida's solution?

Hey, let's provide more corporate tax cuts!

Scott is proposing another $1 billion in (mostly business) tax cuts in 2016, along with asking for an extra $250 million to offer out-of-state businesses to move to Florida.

In other words, he's doubling down on the notion that Florida's best chance for success is to bleed the budget dry and hope corporations ride to the rescue with high-paying jobs, health insurance and random acts of generosity.

Unfortunately, and historically, that plan hasn't really changed our destiny.

In 2006, the number of Fortune 500 companies that called Florida home was 14. All these years later, the number is 15. There are 10 states with smaller populations that have more Fortune 500 companies than Florida.

So is it possible the best companies want to be located in states with the best amenities? And maybe investments in schools, transportation and quality of life might yield greater returns?

Honestly, I like having a few extra bucks as much as anyone. But I can see where the $20 a year I'm saving on tax cuts for my cellphone might be better spent as part of a pile of several hundred million.

I'd rather prison guards get home safely at night. I'd rather nurses in psychiatric hospitals don't fear for their lives. I'd rather disabled children aren't treated like inconvenient nuisances. I'd rather invest in a little state housekeeping instead of trying to do everything on the cheap.

Although I suppose, on the bright side, we could always try to lure Walmart's corporate headquarters here.

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