Dan Gelber: Florida in ‘dire need of leaders who embrace the long view’

MIAMI – Florida state legislators begin the two-plus month session today (March 3) that determines our coming year – from school funding to dealing with poverty and jobs, Medicaid and a host of other issues. These are all things affecting our lives on a daily basis.

By the time you read this Gov. Scott will have given the State of the state outlining what his plans are and how we’ve fared over the past year.

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

Dan Gelber, a former Florida state senator and candidate for Attorney General (we ended up with Pam Bondi), had a wonderful and insightful op-ed in the Sunday Miami Herald, written as if he was the governor addressing the legislators. Gelber again demonstrates that he is the type of politician we need more of in Florida. He is honest, smart, progressive, but at the same time, has the capacity to work both sides of the ideological aisle in order to bring Floridians what is needed when it’s needed.

Here are some of what Dan had to say about the state of our state:

The state of our state is strong, but mostly for a select few:

▪ For the one in four Florida children living in poverty today, the state of our state is fragile. And it isn’t strong for the 3.2 million Florida households that, according to a recent United Way report, struggle every month to stretch paychecks to cover the basic necessities of housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transportation.

▪ It’s hard to be considered strong when you lead the nation in foreclosures.

▪ And strong states do not shortchange the basic care provided their most vulnerable citizens – seniors, children and the disabled – which is exactly what two different judges recently found Florida to be doing.

Gelber later continues by making reference to the reported fact that Florida last year surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the nation. “Just 40 years ago,” he writes, “Florida still resembled the sleepy getaway that had defined it for the better part of a century. A low-cost mecca where sun was plentiful and taxes were low. A place where a young couple could start a family and others could enjoy the autumn of their lives.

“But over the last few decades our state changed as so many flocked here. Our population more than tripled, and rather than adequately invest in workforce education and develop a knowledge-based economy, we built a state on the fumes of that growth, neglecting the kinds of investments that pay dividends in the long term.

“And we are paying the price today.”

In continuance, he writes, “In 1974, Florida’s median household income for a family of four was actually $40 higher than the nation’s. Today, Florida families make $4,000 less than the national median with 38 states doing better.

“Our Florida morphed from a low-cost state with modest wages, to a high-cost state with low wages.”

Gelber emphasizes that to meet the demands of present-day Florida we mush “raise our game.” He cites education as the only way to achieve this.

He then suggests that Florida bring its per pupil “expenditures up to the national average within two years.” And offers the following:

“It’s not only about the money. We will also need to second-guess our obsession with testing and refocus our curriculum. Testing isn’t teaching, and emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math coursework is the only real way for Florida to compete for and attract high wage jobs. But let’s not lose the part of the education experience — like music, art and humanities — that makes school, and life, interesting.

“Finally, our state cannot be strong when 1 million of our fellow citizens still lack health insurance. If we expand Medicaid to include working Floridians who are uninsured, we will generate in excess of $60 billion in our economy over the next decade and provide the kinds of preventive healthcare that saves lives and improves outcomes.”

His most relevant line may have been the following: “…this state is in dire need of leaders who embrace the long view.”

A thought that can be applied to the country, our world…

As I said at the beginning, today begins the Florida legislative session. I’m not expecting much from the bunch we have representing us in Tallahassee. Still, Dan Gelber’s words, as expressed in his Sunday Miami Herald op-ed, is something to shoot for.

[Photo on top of Dan Gelber.]

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