Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech last week should have been called the State of Denial.
He ignored vast areas of public policy and failed to mention a single one of the problems that desperately need attention in Tallahassee.
Predictably, the governor stuck to his favorite themes, a pitch for tax cuts and support for a $250-million incentive fund to attract jobs to Florida — to the exclusion of virtually everything else.
The governor is entitled to focus on his agenda and priorities. He’s entitled to make the best case for his stewardship of state government. But his talk seemed oddly divorced from the everyday reality facing average Floridians, the problems they confront and the vexing issues that have drawn statewide, and sometimes national, attention.
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▪ There was nothing, as well, about the gridlocked traffic on our streets and criminal violence in our cities, which our readers consistently (and rightly) complain about.
▪ Nary a word about the scandals rocking the state, like the backlog of 13,000 untested rape kits, or the mistreatment of inmates in state prisons.
▪ Nor was there a mention about state employees who have gone eight years without a raise, or the furor (which we also hear about often from readers) over the diversion of Amendment 1 funds that were narrowly targeted to cleaning up and improving our environment.
Even Mr. Scott’s self-proclaimed achievements in public education fell short of the mark. Yes, the state’s total education budget was at an all-time high of $19.7 billion, but enrollment was also higher than before and per-pupil spending was below historic dollar totals — and remains far below comparable levels when adjusted for inflation. Mr. Scott’s proposal to raise per-pupil spending to $7,221 is achieved by raising local property taxes, not by help from the state. Overall, Politifact rated his statements on education funding as “mostly false.”
Of course, jobs and taxes, the governor’s priorities, remain important. But with unemployment at 5 percent, down from a wretched 11.9 percent when he took over in 2011, it’s time to think about quality instead of mere job numbers.
Florida ranks 28th among all states in income growth, according to a study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and 17th in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. A recent Bloomberg survey found Miami (7th) and Tampa (8th) among the most unequal cities in the nation in terms of income.
These deep-seated problems contribute to the public anxiety over the economy. Tax cuts alone aren’t the solution, and neither is the governor’s $250-million Florida Enterprise incentive fund to lure more companies and jobs into the state.
Lawmakers are rightly skeptical. The state is already holding about $141 million in escrow for companies that moved to Florida with promises of job creation that have yet to be fulfilled. Shouldn’t we let these deals come to fruition before spending more money on what critics call corporate welfare?
Florida’s economy has benefited from the national recovery that followed the Great Recession.
But there’s no denying that Florida still faces a multitude of problems. They aren’t going away and they aren’t going to be solved by denying they exist.