South Miami

South Miami vice mayor: South Florida should secede, form new state

South Miami Vice Mayor Walter Harris.
South Miami Vice Mayor Walter Harris.

South Florida as its own state?

Yes, indeed, according to South Miami commissioners, who voted 3-2 recently to approve Vice Mayor Walter Harris’ resolution calling for a new state of South Florida, covering 24 counties from Tampa and Orlando south to the Keys.

It’s a proposal that has come up every few years from local leaders and others who think Panhandle lawmakers take South Florida’s tax money while ignoring the needs of the state’s urban areas. Harris cited rising sea levels, climate change and global warming as the major reasons for proposing the resolution.

“We’ve sent a copy of our resolution to all [24 counties] and I intend to contact the ones I have influence in,” Harris said. “I’ve certainly gotten a favorable response. People are for it.”

He and South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, who supported the resolution, have received a number of phone calls from reporters since the resolution.

Florida consists of 67 counties, with a population of more than 19 million. The state of South Florida would occupy 39 percent of the state’s area and have a population of 13.4 million, or 67 percent of the state’s population.

According to the resolution, South Florida collects 69 percent of Florida’s “$22 billion in sales and documentary taxes.”

“For every dollar we pay in state taxes, South Florida gets back 80 cents and North Florida gets back $1.20,’’ Stoddard said in an interview after the meeting.

Harris’ main concerns include the rising sea level in South Florida, which has an average elevation of less than 50 feet, compared with 120 feet in North Florida. Many parts of South Florida, such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties, are less than five feet above sea level.

“This includes Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, and more importantly, it also includes the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point, which is less than five feet above sea level, and there is 2.5 million pounds of nuclear waste buried on it.”

Harris said a good place for South Florida’s state capital would be just west of Fort Pierce.

“It really is very important to everyone in South Florida,” Harris said. “We are supplying the money for the state. We need to supply that money for ourselves. We have a governor now who doesn’t even really admit to rising sea levels. ‘I’m not a scientist,’ he says. ‘I don’t know about this stuff,’ is what he says.”

“Tallahassee has always treated South Florida as a rich uncle. I’ve been up there, and the bureaucracy is mind boggling.”

Commissioners Josh Liebman and Gabriel Edmond dissented. Edmond, a history teacher, cited the federal government’s reluctance, the 1820 Missouri Compromise and West Virginia’s separation from Virginia around the time of the Civil War.

“Historically, the federal government hasn’t allowed states to separate, except in exceptions of war,” Edmond said. “I just don’t think Congress is going to do this because they have never done that.“

Harris said the campaign will need financial backers and a petition to get a ballot referendum.

“Four years ago, I was the first person in the state of Florida to advocate the legalization of medical marijuana,” Harris said. “It’s on the ballot in less than two weeks. No one thought that this could happen.

“The 51st state, because of the unprecedented circumstances, can also happen. The dialogue has to start somewhere.’’

Harris said he plans to speak about the campaign at the Miami-Dade County League of Cities meeting after the Nov. 4 election.

“Florida’s junior senator [Marco Rubio] is none too quick to acknowledge the obvious that scientists have been pointing out,” Stoddard said at the meeting. “Our congresswoman [U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen] doesn’t see what all the hoopla is about.’’

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