With South Florida’s economy moving forward after five tough years, 2013 will prove crucial for our political and civic leaders to invest in our community’s future.
From a desperately needed billion-dollar sewer system to protect both Miami-Dade County residents’ health and our natural treasures, like Biscayne Bay, to what may seem to some like “touchy-feely” initiatives in early-childhood development, the investments our local and state leaders make today will pay huge dividends for this area’s economy and our quality of life.
At the state level, Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned on jobs, jobs, jobs, enters his third year in office with an opportunity to show voters he can push the Legislature to make the wise investments Florida needs to prosper. That will mean investing in education, health and the natural environment — protecting the Everglades and our lakes, rivers and sensitive lands.
The governor has had a mixed record on education. He first proposed radical cuts to K-12 funding then restored about two-thirds of the money last year and called that an investment. Sorry, the math doesn’t add up to success. This year he has the opportunity not only to fully restore funding but home in on early childhood learning as a crucial part of his jobs program into the future.
The first five years of a child’s life are critical to that child’s future — and to society’s safety. Without enough food and proper brain stimulation, children can’t catch up to their healthy peers once they enter first grade. These are the children most at risk of ending up on the streets as teen criminals. All the evidence points to quality pre-K programs delivering results well into a child’s future and saving taxpayers’ money in the long run.
Mr. Scott’s conservative roots place him in an ideal position to make the case that helping parents raise healthy children in those first crucial years is a win-win for families and taxpayers. As it is, almost a third of Florida’s children start school unprepared, forcing more spending on remedial programs.
The Affordable Care Act is the law, but Mr. Scott still resists having Florida take advantage of its key initiatives, whether it’s creating insurance exchanges for residents to shop for the best affordable care to broadening the number of working people and their children who would qualify for Medicaid at minimal cost to Florida. On this issue, Florida’s business community must lead the governor to the right conclusion: that these early investments will pay off in a healthier workforce and stronger economy.
Some progress has been made on funding for Everglades restoration, key to maintaining South Florida’s water supply. But at the local level there’s a mammoth endeavor ahead: replacing a dangerously old sewer system, which will require more money. Water users have had it cheap for too long — at the expense of our health and safety. As the county and cities like Miami Beach draw up their plans for upgrading the system, they must take into account the inevitability of our geography as a low-lying area. Sea level rise is real. Let’s plan accordingly.