The curtain is about to go up on the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature, and perhaps the top story is what they are not going to do, rather than what they will focus their attention on.
Since the enactment of term limits, legislators now know when they are leaving from the day they are elected. The election night tally begins an often not-so-pretty scramble for leadership. House speakers and Senate presidents are often chosen before they even cast the first vote, sometimes before they even take the oath of office. The selection of Richard Corcoran as 2016 speaker back in 2010 is a case in point.
But there is an even worse spin-off from term limits. If leaders know when they are exiting, then they know when to leave the heavy lifting for successors.
We elect and select leaders to lead, not duck issues. Now Speaker Will Weatherford and President Don Gaetz are days away from the ceremonial day of getting hung (their picture, that is) in their respective chambers, and neither wants to rock the boat with issues that might bring dissension in the chamber, or heaven forbid, bad press.
Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t want any hot potatoes on his desk, either. After all, he is running for re-election this year and doesn’t want to make any waves. But aren’t leaders supposed to make waves as they lead to consensus on the critical issues of the day?
The economy is turning, and for once, after a five-year fiscal drought, the state treasury is seeing an uptick in revenue. So the hue and cry is to “cut taxes.”
Well, what about all the things that went unattended during the financial drought? Rick “Let Me Cut Your Taxes” Scott proposes to cut the cost of driving for Florida motorists by an average of $2.08 per month (less than a single Big Mac) so that it will be cheaper for people to drive on roads that are crumbling due to infrastructure neglect.
Florida’s most recent “Infrastructure Report Card,” done in cooperation with the American Society of Civil Engineers, reveals that most infrastructure categories have remained the same or deteriorated since the original 2008 report.
Said Eric Czerniejewski, chair of the 2012 Report Card Committee: “As a state, we have fallen behind in building a modern infrastructure system that will be sustainable in a post-recession economy.”
Think about it. The big southern migration to Florida that catapulted it into a top-tier state is about to celebrate its golden anniversary, and roads, bridges, schools and a lot of other infrastructure are crumbling. Yet the upgrades and replacements remain off the table for the coming year.
Now, the big elephant in the room that neither the governor, House speaker nor Senate president want to talk about, much less deal with, is Medicaid. It has been ignored, and federal funds turned down for three years, and it gets bigger each year.
That’s what I coin as “bulldozer politics.” If you just push it along, the ground stays level under your feet, and the pile gets bigger. But you win if you can push the bigger pile onto someone else’s watch.
By sticking to their pretended war with the federal government, the Florida Legislature is shamelessly snubbing minimum wage-type workers as well as endangering the financial well-being of state hospitals.
A recent study by Florida International University says nearly 25 percent of Floridians are living near or below the poverty level. Many are without access to health care but could have access if Florida would accept in excess of $52 billion of federal funds over the next decade.
Heaven forbid that the legislative leaders would take up anything that would rock the waves or cost votes at the polls.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have leaders who would stand like statesmen and tackle the issues of the day and not let them fester, only to burst on someone else’s watch?
John Grant is a political columnist who served 21 years in the Florida Legislature. He can be reached at [email protected]