News Section: Opinion
A Difficult State for Any State to Endure
On Tuesday, Governor Rick Scott gave his State of the State address, kicking off the annual 60-day legislative scramble. The event was not unlike an annual shareholder meeting, with the CEO cheerleading investors who'd had a good year, blatantly patting himself on the back in the process. The only problem was that just like those meetings, our CEO was only speaking to the small class of winners, while the large masses who'd been left behind were nowhere to be found.
Scott's in a good position in that he took over while Florida was in an economic mess. Having been near the apex of the national real estate bubble, we suffered one of the steepest falls. Accordingly, as the economy has recovered, we've had a decent rebound.
Any sitting governor is going to of course claim ownership of such a reversal of fortunes, and Scott can indeed say that for some people, things are better than they were three years ago – which has been the golden litmus test for leaders since Reagan first invoked the question almost 34 years ago.
The problem is that when you peel away at the onion, Scott's luster quickly begins to dull. A recent report shows that U.S. economic recovery since the peak of the recession in 2009, has been disproportionately enjoyed by the richest Americans. In fact, in a full 26 states, 99 percent of the citizens saw no recovery at all.
Not only was Florida one of those states, but while the top 1 percent here saw a whopping 9.2 percent increase in income during the recovery, the rest of Floridians actually saw their income drop 2.4 percent! This is emblematic of the kind of recovery Scott's been criticized of seeking.
Scott calls himself the "jobs governor," but What kind of jobs? is the fair question his opponents are raising in response. We already know that the dip in unemployment is a bunko number that's been juiced by the state's stingy and convoluted unemployment system, and that the labor participation rate shows that too many Floridians have simply dropped out of the pool.
The jobs that have been coming to the state are too often the low-pay, no-benefit sort and the myriad of scandals at Scott's Enterprise Florida has raised serious questions about the state's habit of doling out cash to “create” jobs, too many of which fail to materialize living-wage paychecks.
The easiest knock on Scott is that he's the CEO governor, focused only on the smoke and mirror game of shining the state's bottom line for the investor class. When he ran Columbia/HCA, critics accused him of setting unrealistic targets and then back-mapping the results with ruthless cuts, kill or be killed pressure tactics and of course fraud, in order to get there (the company paid the largest fine for defrauding Medicare in history for crimes committed while he was at the helm).
It's no surprise that his approach to running the state is the same – or that the results are strikingly similar. Scott has a lot of gimmicks and cherry-picked data to present at his annual meetings, but the meat and potatoes say one thing: his intent is to ruthlessly cut every benefit important to anyone outside of that one percent, in order to make the state more attractive to those in it.
The economic data says he's doing a very good job on that front. Unfortunately, those enjoying the state's recovery don't constitute anything close to a majority and this fall, many Floridians are going to be receptive to a message that simply says you matter too. Scott will point to his gimmicks and giveaways, but if they're working hard and still having to choose between gasoline and meat, it's going to be a tough sell, especially if they actually do as the Gipper instructed.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.
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