by Billy Manes
Advocates “Awake The State” for a Florida that works for all Floridians
Five progressive policy proposals introduced on fifth anniversary of Awake The State
TALLAHASSEE – Advocates joined together to “Awake The State” on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session as part of a statewide, grassroots series of events unveiling a bold, progressive agenda to build a Florida that works for all Floridians – not just the wealthy and well connected. Activists are putting their collective efforts behind five proposed policies – voted on by nearly 2,000 Floridians.
“These proposals would do more for hardworking Floridians than anything Gov. Rick Scott and his legislative allies have done in the last five years,” said Progress Florida executive director Mark Ferrulo.
Awake The State’s five-point roadmap of policy proposals to build a Florida that works for all Floridians:
EXPAND HEALTH CARE: Implements expansion of Florida’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act to close the coverage gap. Expansion would provide access to quality health care for nearly one million Floridians who lack basic health security.
WATER PROTECTION ACT: Florida faces a major challenge in both water quality and quantity and needs to take substantial steps to protect our water. The Department of Environmental Protection must protect our springs and require local governments to adopt seasonal fertilizer ordinances. The risky oil and gas extraction process known as “fracking” must be banned statewide to protect our water resources and the public’s health.
CLEAN ENERGY ACT: Requires the state of Florida to receive 40% of its energy from non-nuclear renewable sources by 2030. Florida faces serious challenges due to the global threat of climate change and we should immediately position our state to take advantage of increasingly affordable sources of renewable energy.
LIVING WAGE AMENDMENT: Proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution raising the state’s minimum wage to $15-per-hour, indexed to inflation. Floridians who work hard should be able to pay for basics like food and rent, provide for their families, and contribute to their local economy.
ANTI-CORRUPTION ACT: Lowers the individual campaign contribution limit to $250, allows Floridians who contribute to state and local campaigns to request a rebate of up to $25. This proposal would restrict the influence of big money in campaigns, empower small donors, and provide the foundation for a more citizen-funded election process.
The anti-corruption act echoes November’s Tallahassee referendum that voters passed to reduce the influence of money in politics and enact tough new ethics rules. “Tallahassee voters made clear they take government corruption very seriously,” said Bullard. “Getting big money out of state politics is a critical step toward good government and will help us enact the other parts of Awake The State’s agenda, like getting Big Sugar out of the way of Everglades cleanup,” he added.
“Every year under Rick Scott and his allies, we’ve had to fend off regressive policies including attacks on public education, working families and women’s health,” said Barbara DeVane with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. “We won’t stop fighting these attacks, but this year Awake The State is putting forward a progressive vision for what Gov. Scott and his legislative allies could – and should – do to build a Florida that works for all Floridians.”
In addition to today’s event at The Capitol, Awake the State activists have shared or will be sharing later this afternoon their progressive platform at events in Brevard, Broward, Lee, Marion, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Putnam and Volusia Counties.
“Floridians want health care, clean water, renewable energy, a living wage and a government we can trust to work for us,” said Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida. “We deserve a Florida that works for all Floridians.”
Awake The State started as a Facebook page that quickly grew to thousands strong, resulting in 30 rallies in cities across the state in March of 2011. The Awake The State movement provides a platform for everyday Floridians to make their voices heard and push back against Rick Scott and the Tea Party-controlled legislature’s flawed priorities. There have been Awake The State events in communities across Florida every year since Rick Scott was elected in 2010.
OK, THAT'S ONE. HERE COMES TWO. GRAB YOUR EXCREMENT BAGS:
Good morning President Gardiner, Speaker Crisafulli and distinguished members of the Florida Legislature. Welcome Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Chief Justice Labarga and members of the Florida Supreme Court. And I would like to recognize my wonderful wife Ann. We have been married for almost 43 years. I love you Ann. We have been blessed.
So now it’s time for another state of the state speech, or as I like to call it – a chance for me to show off my world renowned oratorical skills. It’s ok, you can laugh, it was meant to be a joke.
I want to start off today by talking about what unites us: a love for our great state. Like me, I know all of you don’t have to be in these offices. No one forced you to take these jobs. You signed up for service, and you worked hard to get here. And, like me, you wanted to work for the people of Florida because you know we are the best state in the country. Certainly, we all have our own ideas, and we debate with vigor. But I do believe it is important to acknowledge that we all have common goals for the families that live in our great state. We want every person in Florida to have the opportunity to live the dream of America. I believe we are the best place in the country and the world to make dreams come true. I call this Florida exceptionalism.
Let me take just a minute to brag about our great state, which I know you love just as much as I do. These are some of the successes created by the great people in our state…
In the last four years, the unemployment rate in Florida has dropped in half – from 11.1 percent to 5.6 percent – the second biggest drop in unemployment in the United States. We have added over 728,000 new private-sector jobs. We have 279K job openings right now in our state. In the last year, around 250k people moved to our state and we are now the third biggest state in the nation- bigger than New York. From 1992-2011, Florida inherited $100 billion in adjusted gross income from other states. This is more than 1/8 of our annual GDP. Last year, we had our fourth record year of tourism- 97.3 million people visited our state. Clearly our investment in Visit Florida is working, and every 85 tourists create another Florida job.
We have 15 seaports. Our investments in ports are working, with over 150,000 trade jobs added in the last four years. We have also made significant investments in our airports, which has helped bring record numbers of tourists to Florida. Enterprise Florida has won over 400 competitive projects for new jobs, projects like Hertz and Navy Federal Credit Union. We are a right to work state. We are the gateway to Latin America. We are the number two state for trade infrastructure. We are also number two for aerospace and aviation establishments in the U.S. We are the second best state for business by CEO Magazine, and we will soon be number one.
We are home to over 250 languages. We are at a 43-year-low in our crime rate. We are clearly the best melting pot in the world. Housing prices are up. Taxes are down. We have cut taxes more than 40 times in four years. We have no personal income tax. The average person pays about $1,800 in state taxes in Florida – the lowest in the nation. Lowest number of state workers per capita in the country – and we are going to continue to look for productivity gains. Our LLC’s and Subchapter S corporations don't pay a business tax. Over 80% of our C corporations don’t pay the business tax. We have reduced taxes for our small businesses.
For the first time since Governor Martinez was in office, we have reduced state debt. We have paid down $7.5 billion in debt. Our fourth graders are number two in the world in reading. The National Council on Teacher Quality says we have the best equipped teachers in the nation for two surveys in a row. Our state colleges offer $10,000 degrees in areas where our students can get a job. When we held the line on tuition last year, the price of a Florida Prepaid Plan dropped in half.
Florida is an exceptional place. As far back as the 1800’s, people were moving to Florida to make their dreams come true. In 1851, a doctor and researcher in North Florida received a patent for a refrigeration invention he developed after experimenting with ways to cool a room to make his patients more comfortable. Today, we know this man as the “father of air conditioning” and without John Gorrie’s invention, the beauty of Florida wouldn’t be home to almost 20 million people today!
In 1878, Henry Flagler moved to Florida and began dreaming big. He saw beautiful beaches that were warm year-round and when people told him there wasn’t any way people up north would come down here, he was bold enough to build a railway to get them here and hotels for them to stay in. We now have the vibrant cities of Miami and Palm Beach thanks to the dreams of Henry Flagler over 100 years ago.
In the middle of the Great Depression, George Jenkins, Jr. left his job at a grocery store and decided he would open up his own store. I am sure many people thought Mr. Jenkins was crazy, but he had a dream. Today, his chain of stores employs 127,000 Floridians and is the largest employee-owned company in the country. We know it as Publix.
Of course, we all know about the dreams of Walt Disney. He never lived in Florida, but dreamed up Disney World, which opened in 1971 and put Florida on the map to be the worldwide tourist destination we are today.
Florida has long been a place where dreams come true. But, this is not just our past – it is our future. We have to ask ourselves who has the next big dream for Florida? Who are the inventors? The builders? The trailblazers? We want more people to chase their dreams in Florida.
In fact, some of the people whose dreams are changing the world are here with us today. Please help me welcome: Richard Gonzmart, the fourth-generation President of the Columbia Restaurant Group in Tampa – Florida’s oldest restaurant.
Mary Ann Carroll – a world renowned artist from Florida – unfortunately could not be with us this morning. Mary Ann began selling her paintings in the 1950’s along Fort Pierce’s roadsides. As an African American, she said she was not allowed into any galleries at the time. But, with her 60-year career of hard work and many struggles, Mary Ann now promotes the beauty of our state through her artwork hanging in museums and galleries all across the world.
Please help me welcome theme park designer Bill Coan - president of ITEC Entertainment Corporation in Orlando. Bill has designed theme parks and attractions around the world, like Daytona USA.
And finally, let’s welcome meteorologist and storm chaser Gladys Rubio. Gladys and her husband, Jose, moved to Miami from Cuba in the early 1990’s for a better life. Today, Gladys tracks giant storms across the world at the National Hurricane Center for Spanish-language audiences in the United States and the Caribbean.
Florida is an exceptional place. Every one of you have dreamed big and helped make our state great. I am now a proud grandfather, and I think a lot about how we can make Florida the place where our children’s and grandchildren’s dreams come true. In order to be a land where dreams come true, I believe we have to out-compete the rest of the world.
There are five ways we can do that. First: Let’s keep cutting taxes! Floridians can spend their money better than government can. I want to say that again: Floridians can spend their money better than government can. I have recommended cutting the tax on cell phones and TVs for every Florida family so they can save around $43 a year for spending as little as $100 a month on cell phone and TV bills combined.
I have also recommended that we permanently end the tax on manufacturing equipment so more companies will make major capital investments in Florida.
Businesses can spend their money and create jobs better than government can.
I have recommended that we get rid of the state sales tax on college textbooks because getting a higher education degree must become more affordable.
Students can spend their money better than government can. It should not require a federal loan and decades of debt for students to get a college degree. Price limits access – plain and simple.
If we are going to out-compete the world, the second thing we must do is make higher education more affordable. I want to work with you this year to pass a college affordability bill that will hold the line on graduate school tuition and bring transparency to university costs. Just like any business, we should expect education to become more affordable each year, not more expensive.
Let us never again say that, “we have to raise tuition because tuition in other states is higher than ours.” We don’t raise taxes when other states have taxes higher than ours, and we shouldn’t raise tuition when other states have higher tuition.
Third, to out-compete the world, we must invest in workforce development. Our recommended investments this year include: $30 million for high-skill workforce training; $20 million for advanced workforce training at our tech centers; $5 million to incentivize $10,000 STEM degrees at our state colleges; and $1 million to create a paid summer program for STEM teachers.
Fourth, if we are going to out-compete the world, we must invest in K-12 education. This year, we are recommending an increase in K-12 funding to $50 above the historic level to $7,176 per student. Four years ago, I stood before you and said we would have to make some hard decisions. And, we did. We made reductions that dipped into education, knowing that when the economy improved we could invest again. Many of these decisions were unpopular, but by living within our means it created an environment for success. Few thought we could add 728,000 jobs, have the highest funding for education, and invest in our environment just four years later. But, we did it together – and we have more work to do.
Now that our economy is thriving, it is time to make major investments in education. Let’s not squander our budget surplus on special interests. Our budget should reflect the principles we campaigned on or in other words, we should do exactly what we told voters we would do.
The final thing we must do to out-compete the world is keep Florida beautiful. Florida is an exceptional place – we have the economy and the opportunity to keep it that way. Our recommended budget includes more than $3 billion for environmental and agriculture programs which includes a total of $150 million in funding to protect the Everglades and another $150 million that will help protect land for the Florida panther. It is important to point out that our recommended environmental investments in land and water programs will be $82 million above what is required by Amendment One.
The goals I just outlined to out-compete the world are bold. I have met with many of you over the last few months and I know we share the exact same vision. We want Florida to be the best place in the world for our children and grandchildren to live their dreams. We agree on more than we disagree on. We want to give families back more of the money they earn, and reduce the burden of government.
In the weeks ahead, I expect some people will try to divide us. They will try to distract us. But, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker - I believe we can come together with our shared desire to improve this great state. Many of our shared goals are already outlined in your “Work Plan 2015.” Members of the Senate, Members of the House - I commit to all of you that I will be a tireless partner in your fight to make Florida the best place in the world for all of our children and grandchildren to get a great job and live their dreams.
I believe that our rich history is only a glimpse of what we can do in the future. Everything is possible in Florida. We are now in the lead; and it’s ours to lose. We have to avoid any temptation to stand down or rest on our laurels. And of course, even with our tremendous progress, there are still some Floridians who have not yet found their opportunity. Having grown up in a family that was at times down on our luck, I know the importance of each and every family having an opportunity. Remembering those tough times drives me every day to do all I can to give each and every one of our citizens the chance to realize their dreams. Government cannot guarantee outcomes for everyone, but we should all be united in our desire to guarantee opportunities for everyone who is willing to work hard.
I am looking forward to working side-by-side with you during session to achieve our shared goals, inspire future generations to dream, and keep Florida working.
God bless America and God bless the exceptional state of Florida. Thank You.
NOT SO FAST, RICK. HERE ARE PAFFORD'S WORDS FOR YOU.
Hello, I’m Mark Pafford from West Palm Beach. It’s my honor to serve as Democratic Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.
I’m glad to be here to offer our response to Governor Rick Scott’s State of the State.
The start of the Legislature is always an exciting time for me. It’s especially true this year as we look forward to making Florida a better place to work and live. We want to address your concerns: How to get ahead. How to give your children a great future. How to take care of your family’s health and safety.
We’ve noticed how Governor Scott and Republicans are finally hearing the people. It’s the same thing Democrats have been saying all along.
Governor Scott last week tapped the brakes on some tests our students are forced to take. Let’s fix testing. These tests are so stressful for our children and take up too much teaching time.
We’ve heard you all along. It’s exactly what we feared would happen during long debate about these bad laws.
Our public schools should meet high standards. Measuring progress is important. Let’s do it within reason.
We also think funding public schools is important.
Did you know about half the money for education the governor has in his budget comes from local property taxpayers? It used to be different. Not long ago the state picked up 60 percent of school funding. The governor’s budget has close to a 400 million dollar increase in property taxes to allow him to brag about his plan.
We think you should get the credit you deserve and we also think the state should pick up more of that tab and give local taxpayers a break.
And health care. Some Republicans and big-business groups have said Florida should take money now going to other states. If we do that, we can expand health care coverage and solve some tough budget choices. It would also provide care for more than 800,000 Floridians who currently rely on emergency rooms for primary health care.
It’s the smart thing to do. Business groups see that. More and more Republicans see that. House Democrats have been saying so all along.
There’s another reason it’s smart. Even though the federal government has said it’s going to stop sending one billion dollars to Florida, Governor Scott included that money in his own budget. It could leave a billion-dollar hole.
There is good news. Using federal money under the Affordable Care Act would save lives. It would provide other savings for the state and help so many people. We’ve been saying this all along and maybe this is the year it’s heard.
In November I heard voters. Statewide, 75 percent of Floridians said our beautiful environment is very important to them. They said the state should keep its promises and protect our land and water.
Look, this is really important to me. I love the Everglades. I love our incredible springs. The Florida Panther? Manatees? It’s what makes Florida special. For as long as I’ve been in the Legislature I’ve asked for more money to protect the environment. Now, voters have insisted Republican leadership listen.
I hope they’ll listen to the voters and spend that money on conservation and protection of our land and water.
It’s really about the future and making sure we all can do better. Of course, the governor talks about jobs. We’re happy the whole country’s economy has improved, along with Florida’s. We’re glad the governor can travel around the world in his own private jet.
But you know what? Quality matters, too. Democrats think it’s important to focus on bringing good jobs with good pay to the state. More than 45 percent of households in our state struggle to pay the bills from month to month? We hear you. We hope Republicans hear us this session. We look forward to the work ahead.
It’s our honor to represent you as Democrats in the Florida House. We’re going to keep speaking truth and fighting for what we think is right for you. Who knows, maybe Republicans are even ready to listen and act.