Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Romano: Oh goodie, the silly season is about to begin in Tallahassee

The assault on your sanity has already begun.

On the day the governor released his budget wish list, the House speaker announced he was going after Tallahassee's cockroaches and the Senate president had to remind everyone of a constitutional amendment that lawmakers have ignored for two years.

This is typical of the days and weeks before Florida's legislative session. There's posturing and there's positioning. There are sound bites and suckups. Mostly, there's a lot of partisan politicking that leaves very little room for big-picture conversations.

Which brings us to Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. In two short sentences, she captured the essence of Florida's shortcomings this week.

"Our state doesn't have a revenue problem or a spending problem,'' she said. "What we have is a problem in priorities."

Yes. Yes! YES!

It isn't about one policy or another. It isn't about micromanaging every dollar collected or spent. It's about a state with no sense or vision of the future.

Gov. Rick Scott has been ultra-focused on creating jobs for six years now, and it is true Florida's unemployment rate is much lower than when he took office (although still higher than the national rate). And while the number of jobs is important, the quality of those jobs is equally critical.

And that's where Florida has been short-sighted for far too long.

We have great weather, hundreds of miles of coastline and room to grow. We have a handful of major metropolitan areas, millions of tourists and the third-largest population in the United States.

Yet we struggle to attract high-paying jobs and the quality-of-life improvements they would bring.

Consider the rate of Fortune 500 companies versus state populations:

The five most populous states in the country are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. Four of those states also have the most Fortune 500 companies. The outlier is Florida.

We're 12th among states with the most desirable companies. And it's not as close as it sounds. New York, California and Texas all have more than 50 of those coveted companies. Florida has 17.

For all the talk of being a business-friendly state, we never invest in ourselves.

We're near the bottom of the nation in education spending per pupil. Ditto for mental health spending. Our poverty rate is too high, and mass transit options are pathetically absent.

Do you suppose corporations take any of that into consideration?

Scott wants a bundle of money to lure out-of-state companies with financial incentives, which is sort of like shopping with coupons. It's not sustainable and it rarely attracts the big boys.

Meanwhile, his modest proposal to boost education funding with revenue from increased property values already seems to be in jeopardy from the House.

"We have an $83 billion budget, and we still can't fund education the right way," Cruz told me Wednesday. "I think if the taxpayers fully understood what is going on in Tallahassee, they'd be outraged."

This is the time for meaningful conversations about the state's direction, and instead we're going to be talking about guns, corporate tax cuts and the silly topic de jour in Tallahassee before the legislative session begins in March.

Can we give up the slogans and work on strategies?

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