Florida Democrats at a crossroads: Republican economic failures
Florida Republicans have long sold economic growth and tax cuts as the fundamental core of the party’s messaging. While other issues such as school vouchers, restricting women’s reproductive freedom, undermining marriage equality and undermining restrictions on gun ownership have been the sexy headlines in Florida’s papers. But the Republican brand has been based on tax cuts and economic messaging. Rick Scott made it the cornerstone of his successful reelection campaign and Jeb Bush touted his successes economically for years. But the record of Republicans is one of failure to move Florida forward.
The record of failed Republican-sponsored tax incentives and tax abatement is clear. Florida is one of four true “mega-states” with more large and medium sized urban areas than any other state in the union. Yet, Florida has a pathetically small number of Fortune 500 companies based in the state. Despite a tax rate lower than most states and “right to work” status which prevents unions from effectively organizing, Florida’s Republicans have failed badly in attracting high-end service sector job, manufacturing jobs, intellectual jobs or more than a handful high-profile corporate relocations. For example, Virginia has attracted five new Fortune 500 companies to the state in the past decade. Texas, which like Florida has been run by Conservative Republicans has attracted four. Florida has attracted just one. While having the fourth largest population in the country and total Republican control of state government for 14 years, Florida ranks just 12th in Fortune 500 company headquarters behind smaller states like Minnesota, Georgia and Virginia. In terms of actual job creation and attracting new big business to the state, Texas’ Rick Perry and Virginia’s combination of Democratic and Republican Governors blow away Governors Scott and Jeb Bush.
While unable to attract new industry or foster a climate of innovation that develops successful companies the Republicans have done more damage with cuts to Higher Education that have resulted in the plummeting national reputation of the state’s top universities. Active opposition to High Speed Rail by Republican Governors Scott and Bush (enabled by some Democrats like former Senator Minority Leader Ron Klein who sided with Bush on this issue) has denied the state an ability to attract high-end engineering jobs and move people, goods and businesses between the state’s largest metropolitan areas efficiently.
Perhaps the Republican agenda is to protect current Florida businesses by busting unions, lowering taxes and preventing competition or innovation in the marketplace. Weakening higher education ensures that chances of a well educated workforce emerging to threaten the old order are remote. Tax breaks for manufactures benefits current manufactures in the state but has not brought new jobs in this sector in an effective enough manner to justify the $115 million expenditure the legislature promised would be a boon to industry.
Republicans and Democrats in other southern states both deserve credit for their ability to encourage and solicit economic development from large corporations creating heavy manufacturing jobs. The types of blue collar jobs complemented by high end corporate jobs that Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee in particular have attracted over the last fifteen years is admirable. While those states have moved forward, Florida, once the envy of the region has stagnated or regressed. While Republicans in other southern states have taken governing seriously, Florida’s GOP have chosen to use control of state government as an opportunity to implement the experiments of right-wing Washington think tanks and special interest groups. It is no small wonder Florida continues to be the butt of jokes nationally.
Unfortunately, Florida’s Democrats have been unwilling to aggressively challenge the record of Republicans on these matters. The policies of the GOP not only have hurt ordinary Floridians but they have done little to attract new business to the state. Florida ranks 43rd in manufacturing jobs and as stated above 12th in Fortune 500 headquarters behind a plethora of smaller states.
Democrats need to aggressively challenge the GOP on economics. Simply opposing the Republicans on education issues, because of the opposition from the Teachers Union or women’s issues because of various pressure groups is not good enough. While progressives like myself appreciate the Democrats willingness to defend Florida’s public schools and a women’s right to control her own body and medical decisions, economic issues have often been lost by the opposition party.
Florida’s failure to push on from the successes of the 1970’s and 1980’s when the state was the envy of the nation and created a successful progressive business climate is squarely on the GOP majority that has run the state uncontested for 16 years. Time and again, the Republicans talk about a positive climate for business yet the policies they enact do nothing for Florida’s citizens or those outside the state looking to engage here.
Using the Republicans failure to provide good paying jobs for Florida’s growing population in addition to the failure on issues such as High Speed Rail and Higher Education have to be part of the Democrats messaging on the state level beginning in the 2016 cycle. We’ve seen Democrats talk economics ever so often, but quite frankly not enough to make a difference.