By Mark Ferrulo
Looking for secrecy, lack of accountability, and corporate cronyism? Look no further than the Florida Legislature. The recently concluded 2014 Florida legislative session was a masterful showcase for the cornucopia of taxpayer handouts and political favors powerful corporate interests receive when they graciously open their wallets.
Gov. Rick Scott and his allies that control the Legislature have once more failed our state by putting deep-pocketed campaign contributors and partisan politics ahead of the needs of working Floridians and the middle class. From blocking debate on equal pay for equal work for women, to a head-in-the-sand approach to protecting our environment, the list of issues ignored by this legislature is as long as it is indefensible.
Let’s start with this head scratcher: For the second year in a row, Gov. Scott and legislative leaders failed to accept $52 billion in federal dollars to expand health-care coverage to nearly a million working Floridians. However, they did agree to spend five million of your state tax dollars to market Florida’s health-care industry to “medical tourists.”
You read that right. The current gang running our state would rather spend $5 million of your state taxes to promote nose-jobs and tummy tucks to tourists than spend zero of your state tax dollars to provide health care to nearly a million Floridians. This is great stuff for late-night comedy talk show ratings, but not so great for Florida.
This legislative session, lawmakers also ignored the needs of our public schools, focusing instead on expanding taxpayer-funded voucher programs. Private school vouchers siphon precious tax dollars away from our public schools and into the hands of unaccountable fly-by-night for-profit charter and virtual school operators – many of whom contributed handsomely to lawmakers’ campaign coffers.
And once again, legislative leaders pushed bills that restrict women’s access to health care instead of expanding it. They sent a bill to Gov. Scott’s desk that risks women’s health and puts politicians in the exam room where they don’t belong.
And the list goes on: Republicans blocked efforts to raise the minimum wage, an idea that would help families rise out of poverty and boost Florida’s economy – but reportedly made Gov. Scott “cringe.” It came as little surprise that “equal pay for equal work for women” legislation never even got a hearing.
This session, Gov. Scott’s allies didn’t utter one word about challenging the unfair nuclear tax, which forces Floridians to pay in advance for nuclear plants that will never be built. This is an ongoing, multibillion-dollar giveaway to Big Utilities. And lawmakers delivered another slap in the face to energy consumers by abolishing the state’s solar rebate program.
And although Florida’s world-famous freshwater springs are in serious decline because of too much pumping and too much pollution, legislators failed to pass strong springs protections despite widespread public support. Big developers and the fertilizer industry have contributed huge sums of money to legislative leadership and killing a springs protection bill was the return on their investment. Our democracy is choked with special-interest corporate money like our springs are choked with algae.
This session, Gov. Scott and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature did everything in their power to block pro-middle-class, forward-thinking policies while advancing failed far-right ideas pushed by corporate lobbyists that will only drag our state backwards.
In virtually every issue area, from education to health care, water and land protection to energy policy, consumer rights to smart growth, the 2014 Florida Legislature proved to be the best legislature money can buy.
Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.