Friday, March 5, 2010

Senate Democrats’ State of the State Response -- Nan Rich

Good evening. My name is Nan Rich and I’m here to talk about the plans we have to get Florida moving again.

As a state Senator from South Florida, and on behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus, I’d like to thank Governor Crist for his ongoing optimism concerning Florida’s ability to emerge from this economic darkness.

Floridians have always had a can-do spirit. It’s because of that strong backbone that this state once known more for her swamplands than her pristine beaches has grown into a beacon for families wanting a better life.

I also applaud the governor for recognizing the critical need education plays in any economic turnaround, and his willingness to commit more money to our children in elementary through high school.

But I am very alarmed that the economic vision he outlines is dependent on a Republican party that has governed this state about as effectively as it has governed its own finances.

For the past decade, Florida has been at the epicenter of a disastrous political experiment known as “trickle-down economics.”

That’s the belief that by cutting the taxes of the very rich, somehow the benefits magically “trickle down” to the middle class and below.

Well, a lot of things have trickled down to middle class Florida over these years – higher and higher property taxes, fewer and fewer jobs with lower and lower pay, cuts to colleges, universities, and health programs for our senior citizens and disabled.

That’s in large part because at the same time our tax bill was getting larger, the tax bill for the very wealthy was getting smaller and smaller.

They no longer have to pay their fair share for things like police and fire protection, or maintaining a good public education system.

And Wall Street banks are still using our court system to foreclose and evict Floridians from their homes. They just aren’t paying for it.

Add it all up and the Republican leadership gave these favored few a whopping tax break of $11 billion! And, as incredible as it sounds, they’re proposing to give them even more.

Well, we think it’s time to stop the madness.

It’s time to tip the balance back to the hardworking people of Florida who are sick and tired of the party infighting.

Just as they’re sick and tired of the same old trickle down propaganda that former Governor Jeb Bush declared a success in creating a “magnificent economic engine” here in Florida, and which his father once denounced as “voodoo economics.”

If there is any doubt of the damage these policies have wrought, look around you: the hundreds of thousands without jobs, the abandoned properties, the skyrocketing demand for food stamps, unemployment assistance, medical help and job retraining, the rising number of Floridians just one pay check away from disaster.

And ask yourself this: “What has a millionaire done for me lately?”

So how do we turn this around?

There is no more pressing problem in Florida than that of job creation. We do that by retraining our workforce and by committing the needed money to community colleges and universities where that training begins. A skilled workforce is one of the biggest factors businesses look for in deciding where to locate.

We find ways to encourage local Florida-based banks to begin lending again, especially to small businesses looking to cover payroll or expand in new, more promising directions.

We get behind legislation reviewing the soundness of certain sales tax exemptions – more than $23 billion annually that special interests enjoy.

We reject laying off state employees, whether they’re highway patrol officers or emergency personnel on the front lines when disasters hit, especially when the demand is still on the rise for their help. Throwing more people out of work hurts all of us in the long run.

The same is true for the one-sided cuts to critical state programs Republicans are supporting to balance the state budget. These programs keep Floridians working. With an unemployment rate hovering at 12 percent, you cannot slash your way to prosperity.

And we urge our lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington to return to Florida the money she deserves.

For example, every time we fail to commit 30 dollars in state money for the widely popular Kidcare program, we lose 70 dollars in matching federal funds Floridians have already paid to Washington.

Crazy? You bet. This penny-wise and pound-foolish approach has not only hurt programs like KidCare and other federally matched programs, but it means our hard-earned tax dollars are going to other states to subsidize their spending, instead of heading back to Florida where they rightfully belong. It’s time we stopped donating to the rest of the country. Every time we cut services and lose federal matching dollars, we not only hurt people, we become more of a donor state to the federal government.

Anytime the status quo is challenged – like the Republicans in control now for more than a decade - there is bound to be a struggle. We expect no less as we re-focus the legislature on the people and our state’s critical needs.

But there may be a glimmer of hope. Last year, Democrats broke through the partisan gridlock in closing a tax loophole high end developers were using to dodge real estate doc stamps everyone else has to pay.

The same group of Republicans who passed a record $1 billion tax hike on the state’s drivers actually joined our efforts to end this bad tax policy.

Much as Ronald Reagan, the father of trickle-down economics, eventually reversed many of his lopsided tax policies in the interest of fairness, so too did a leading conservative Republican as he backed the loophole’s closure: “In my view, this is not a tax increase,” he said. “This is simply closing a loophole that is…giving one group of people an advantage.”

As this legislative session unfolds, it is our hope that the wisdom of that statement trickles down as well.

Thank you. And good night.

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