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Florida is Winning the Race to the Bottom


Florida closed out 2012 distinguishing itself in several categories that when looked at together paint a pretty clear picture of the priorities our state leaders have embraced. From license to carry permits to educational achievement to environmental standards and prison statistics, most of us can guess where Florida stands on most issues. Taken in context, one can clearly see the dramatic influence of special interests who've targeted our state as easy prey, achieving a policy agenda that's deeply out of step with the interests of most residents.

Just days before the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacres, our state was bragging that it was about to issue its 1 millionth license to carry permit. Just a month prior, a so-called task force commissioned by Governor Rick Scott after the Treyvon Martin shooting to investigate Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, issued a report not only saying that the law was pretty much fine as is, but even suggested a few changes that would make it easier for people to claim the defense.

Never mind that since the Martin case, there have been even more absurd “defense” shootings in our state, including a man who shot and killed a parent in a school yard over a skateboarding incident, another guy who shot a fellow customer in a pizza parlor argument and the guy in Jacksonville who fired into a car full of teens during an argument over the volume of their music – leaving one of them dead.

Not surprisingly, Florida also sentenced more of its citizens to death than any other state last year. Our state is perennially in the top-10 list each year for the incarceration rate of its citizens. Of course we're 45th in public school teacher pay and 50th in state money spent per capita on education as of the last census, while we jump to 17th in terms of money spent on corrections. So again, you can see where the priorities lie.

In order to make it look like the state economy is improving, Florida has made it more difficult for the unemployed to receive benefits, landing it in a tie with North Dakota for the state with the most amount of eligible non-workers not receiving their benefit, the practices of which have made our state the subject of a Department of Labor investigation.

It appears that after 14 years of resisting compliance with federal clean water standards, our state has finally been forced to get on board with federally-designed standards that will at last set nutrient standards for our polluted lakes, streams and coastal areas. The EPA ordered Florida along with a few other states to develop standards of protecting these essential waterways from toxic nitrogen and phosphate pollutants way back in 1998, but under pressure from big-agriculture and cattle interests, the state amazingly allowed the pollution of many of its waterways to go unfettered for well over a decade until a successful lawsuit forced the EPA's hand. There's no telling how much damage was done in the interim or whether it could ever be reversed, but here in Florida this still counts as a major victory.

With its easy to influence, part-time legislature and single-party rule, our state has been targeted by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council as a prime market in which to ram through plug and play legislation, fostering an environment of weak environmental oversight, little to no collective bargaining power, massive taxpayer subsidy of special interest private-market boondoggles and an education system that seems designed to create the sort of dumbed-down laborers that such an economy requires, while our best and brightest young minds are inspired to flee in search of better opportunities, aka the brain drain. Florida seems locked in a race to the bottom with states like Texas, Mississippi and the numbers suggest we're leading the way down.

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost. 


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