Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: In Florida, the rich (politicians) get richer

Every year about this time, the rich get together in Tallahassee to decide what to do about Florida’s unwashed peasantry.

Every year, they get a little richer.

Florida Watchdog reported last week that the gang gathering in the Senate chamber reported a combined net worth of $144 million last year on their financial disclosure forms. Which was 7 percent more than the year before, 18 percent higher than 2011. They seem to be doing a hell of a lot better than their financially flat-lined constituents, but at least their policies are benefiting someone.

Florida Watchdog counted 17 millionaires among the state Senate’s 40 members. (The average net worth of the other 23 was $361,628, indicating that even Senate bottom feeders are six times better off than the average Floridian.) Party designation has no particular bearing on the heftiness of senatorial bank accounts. Six Senate Democrats — Gwen Margolis, Maria Sachs, Eleanor Sobel and Jeremy Ring, all from South Florida — were members of the big bucks crowd.

The Florida Senate has evolved into a kind of Cracker House of Lords without the wigs, where the average member is worth $3.77 million.

Meanwhile, the chumps over at the House of Representatives aren’t worth much more than an average $1.4 million. In Tallahassee, they call that slumming.

Our state legislators are even richer than those poor lawmakers in Washington. Not that members of Congress are hard up for money. The Center for Responsive Politics reported last year that the median net worth among the 534 members of Congress was $1,008,767 (up from $966,000 the year before). Though the actual numbers are probably much more, given that the disclosure requirements don’t include real estate holdings.

Florida’s 27 U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators reported an average net worth of $1.06 million, slightly better than the congressional average. Politics seems to be a growth industry in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott’s reported net worth was $132 million last year, up from $83 million reported the year before.

Unhappily, while the pols are getting richer, most Floridians are headed in the other direction. A study by the Economic Analysis and Research Network found Florida was one of 26 states in which all income growth from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1 percent. Over that period, the average income of the top 1 percent in Florida rose 9.2 percent while the rest of us, the motley 99 percent, suffered a 2.4 percent decline in average income. The rich gobbled up 259 percent of the state’s income growth between 2009 and 2012.

The long-term trend is even bleaker. The same report found that from 1979 to 2012, the richest 1 percent saw average incomes rise 176.2 percent. The rest of us suffered incomes declining by 11.9 percent (adjusted for inflation).

The problem with income disparity, of course, is that it hardly seems alarming when you’re seated in first class, sipping complimentary champagne.

I’m guessing wealth inequality won’t even be on the agenda Tuesday, when the millionaires’ club convenes in Tallahassee.

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