If there were any lingering doubts that the Republicans running Florida for the past 14 years have lost touch with the real world, consider the tens of thousands of working parents with young children they cast to the wind once more this past legislative session.
In one of those classic “what were they thinking?” moments, Republican Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year signed off on a budget that left Florida’s subsidized childcare programs — once again — woefully underfunded while shoring up — once again — high-end welfare for some of the world’s biggest corporations.
Unfortunately for Florida’s working families, at the same time the totally inadequate child care funding was also about to undergo a major revision in the way it was distributed, rescrambling parents in Florida’s 67 counties dependent on, or wait-listed for, the program.
The initial concept was good: create fairness and equity in the way the state child care dollars are distributed in all of Florida’s counties. The problem was that because the state-subsidized child care program has been drastically underfunded for years, any shift of funds to one county meant a loss to another.
As The Miami Herald reported, in Miami-Dade, for example, more than 1,000 children may be ejected from their childcare programs, and thousands more added to a growing waiting list — almost 23,400 children — because the redistribution resulted in a loss of $3.7 million this year. The county also faces a staggering $22.3 million cumulative loss over the next six years.
Throughout Florida, where 63,985 children are currently on the state’s waiting list, the result is, as one prominent observer noted, a “Sophie’s choice,” forcing parents to make agonizing decisions between earning an income — or leaving a child home alone.
In justifying his proposal to cut millions of dollars from social programs and education last year, the governor said: “We’ve got to figure out how to do more with less. If we don’t, we’re never going to grow jobs in this state.”
Unless he intends to grow jobs by forcing more people out of them, the governor’s domestic austerity approach is questionable, at best. Because while he’s pitching cake for the masses, the former healthcare CEO has simultaneously been pushing additional billions in tax breaks to cash-flush companies ostensibly for job creation which, in many cases, never happens.
And even this year, as the child-care assistance program continued to beg for funding, the Republican-led legislature again refused to hear Senate Democrats’ legislation that would have closed lucrative tax loopholes for out-of-state-based corporations. These tax dodgers not only put Florida-only small businesses at an unfair competitive disadvantage but cripple the state’s ability to adequately pay for services like child care and public education — the kinds of things that actually do sustain and create real jobs.
To any outside observer, the hypocrisy is unmistakable: It’s OK for government to give dwindling tax dollars to corporations that don’t need it and don’t create promised jobs, but it’s not OK for government to better harness its resources to keep parents working. It’s OK to ask working and middle class families to do more with less, but it’s not OK to ask the same financial sacrifices from CEO’s.
Scott and his like-minded Republicans would do well to remember that you reap what you sow. Their lopsided priorities might make Florida a contender in bargain basement competition with Third World economies, but when it comes to real jobs, real growth, and a real future, Florida’s children don’t stand a chance.
Nan Rich, of Weston, is the Senate Democratic Leader for the 2010-2012 legislative sessions.