A group of 50 Florida Influencers, comprised of leaders in the state’s political, business, academic and faith communities, were asked to rank seven policy areas identified by readers — economic inequality, education, environment, gun control, health care, immigration and infrastructure — from most to least important to the state’s future.
With 48 Influencers responding, education narrowly edged economic inequality as the top overall issue.
Here is a sampling of their comments:
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“The need to improve our infrastructure is the most important issue because it directly impacts potential solutions to many other issues. Congestion is one reason for the recent trend of health systems opening more outpatient centers in various locations to ensure they are located in close proximity to the patient. Access to connectivity and an ability to transport our teachers within the district are variables in the quality of our education system. Most important, an inability to shuttle our structurally unemployed results in the mismatch between a large number of unfilled jobs, which indeed exists within our communities, and those who could fill those jobs.’’
– Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder, Greenberg Traurig Miami office.
“Florida deserves credit for its investment of state resources in higher education in recent years. With continued commitment, Florida will have research universities that are equal in excellence and reputation to our nation’s most prestigious universities. This is important because leadership in research and innovation will drive our economy and attract outside investment and high-paying jobs. It’s also important that Florida’s very best students not need to leave the state to attend a top-ranked university.”
— Kent Fuchs, president, University of Florida
‘’Education is a key issue for Florida. Not only do we need to ensure that students K-12 are not being left behind, but we can’t stop there. We also need to invest in students throughout their college careers. With technology expanding rapidly, one-third of what students learn in college is outdated by the time they graduate. We’re training them for jobs that don’t exist with tools that will be outdated by the time they enter the workforce.’’
— Rhea Law, chair, Florida offices, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
“Hiding behind the appropriate attention to the opioid crisis is the broader mental-health issue. Stigmatized and broadly losing funding, inadequate treatment impacts homelessness, prisons and healthcare. Families don’t talk about the issue, and there is little organized advocacy in an underfunded industry left behind by market forces.’’
— Daryl Tol, CEO, Florida Hospital
We asked Influencers which issues are getting little attention from media and public officials. Some responses:
“Automation continues to be depicted as distant and vague robots taking over manufacturing jobs. Those without means are more focused on challenges in their communities like gun violence, housing affordability and other immediate and urgent needs easily seen. Those with means largely believe that their wealth and education privilege will insulate them from workplace obsolescence. The reality is that artificial intelligence’s cost and availability will present an attractive alternative to many of the 8 million cashiers in our country and 3 million truck drivers, as well as highly trained lawyers, doctors and finance professionals.’’
— Chris Caines, executive director, Miami Future Urban Institute, FIU
“The state of Florida decimated its cultural budget during the last legislative session. In a time of budget increases, the arts budget was reduced from $25 million to $2.6 million. That 90 percent cut adversely affected museums, science centers, theaters and community organizations across the state that strive to improve the quality of life for Floridians and the tourism experiences for its visitors. Importantly, there is a multiplier effect for every dollar invested. So by slashing arts funding, our state’s leaders also managed to sabotage our economy.’’
— Xavier Cortada, artist in residence, FIU
“How big corporate interests and a handful of politicians control state government. Because the problem is complex and solutions are difficult and perhaps unpopular -- eliminating term limits, which has done more to consolidate power in the hands of a few, and campaign finance reform, which has been made more difficult in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.’’
— Rebecca O’Hara, senior legislative advocate, Florida League of Cities
“Gun control and mental health are issues not getting enough attention from our politicians. These issues have a direct impact on the safety of our children, our schools and our communities. I applaud the discussion from both the press and the public, but these issues are not being addressed by our politicians because many have been bought and paid by the NRA. We need elected officials that have integrity, courage and are dedicated to the true well-being of all citizens.
— Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO, Goldman Properties
Both readers and Influencers identified economic inequality as a top issue. We asked Influencers about policy suggestions to improve the situation:
“The fastest-growing areas of work include retail, restaurants, hospital staff, hotel, childcare and eldercare, however, these areas of work tend to pay very little. First, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Second, bolster unions starting with service occupations that are isolated from international rivalry and from the ever-changing computer/robotic automation. Third, higher taxes on the rich. Fourth, limit the political influence that the wealthy have, which drowns out the voices of average Americans by moving toward a public financing of elections.
— Terry DeCarlo, LGBT leader
“Economic understanding and education. An increased understanding of the fundamental principles of economics would lead to a better understanding of how markets, supply and demand, work. Teaching of personal opportunities through these understandings can lead to increased personal achievement and economic success.’’
— David Mica, Executive Director, Florida Petroleum Council
“The obvious answer is increasing wages and attracting companies that engage higher salary employees. But in order to combat inequality, we need to improve public education to those in lower income areas and we need to provide subsidies and incentives to create more affordable housing.’’
— Jorge Perez, Chairman and CEO, Related Group
“Proper use of the Sadowski Fund. This fund, which was established to support affordable housing, should not be raided. Affordable housing for low-wage workers and seniors is vital to prevent homelessness and the other ills that can befall people when they are housing-cost burdened. It is also important to look at eliminating or ameliorating the fiscal cliffs that people fall off when they are trying to work their way out of poverty. These cliffs occur when modest growth in income results in dramatic losses of benefits that far outweigh the income gain.’’
— Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, President and CEO, Children’s Services Council of Broward County