With Florida’s legislative session set to begin tomorrow, groups on all sides of the political spectrum are gearing up for what is likely to be a highly charged and protracted fight on a range of issues facing a state helmed by a governor who wants to drastically scale back spending — which many argue will shift the financial burden to those who can least afford it.
Gov. Rick Scott has vowed to run the Sunshine State like a business, and many fear that, to meet his goals, the legislature will transfer much of its budget woes to state workers and average taxpayers, while extending tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.
“This is a budget written by a billionaire CEO, for billionaire CEOs,” Susannah Randolph of Florida Watch Action tells The Florida Independent. “The tax burden is being placed squarely on the shoulders of middle-class Floridians.”
Florida Watch Action is among a number of progressive advocacy groups who have formed a coalition dubbed “Awake the State” that is planning rallies around Florida starting tomorrow, Tues., March 8, to challenge Scott’s budget.
“Awake the State is happening all over the state on March 8 and is being organized by local activists to stand strong against the all-out assault on Florida workers and their families,” Randolph says. “The folks organizing these rallies are the faces of Florida — average people who oppose massive funding cuts to education and tax increases on our police, firefighters, nurses and teachers.”
As the political upheaval continues in places like Wisconsin, where another tea party favorite, Gov. Scott Walker, has stagnated state government due to his attempt to, among others, remove collective bargaining rights from public workers, echoes of that struggle can be heard in Florida.
In a radio interview with WFLA, Scott affirmed his support for collective bargaining, which is enshrined in the Florida Constitution, before switching stances later.
“Walker is trying to eliminate collective bargaining,” Scott said. “My belief is, as long as people know what they’re doing, collective bargaining is fine.” He added, however: “as long as people know what they’re voting for.”[Later], Scott gave an interview with Bloomberg TV in Washington, D.C. and changed his tune. While Florida’s Constitution protects workers from being compelled to join a union, it also protects unions workers by guaranteeing their right to collective bargaining. Scott acknowledged the constitutional protections, but announced he’d now would like to see the constitution changed.
“It’d be great to be able to change it,” Scott said, according to a preview of the interview posted on the Bloomberg web site. “Our state workers don’t pay for anything into their pension plan. And we can’t afford that — it’s not fair to taxpayers. If you didn’t have collective bargaining, would it be better for the state? Absolutely.”
Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who over the years have donated more than $100 million to right-wing causes and who financed much of Scott Walker’s campaign, have been pushing behind the scenes for a showdown on the issue of unions and collective bargaining in Wisconsin.
Stephanie Porta of Organize Florida, which is also involved in the “Awake the State” rallies, says the Koch brothers’ influence has made its way to Florida as well, with tea party events being organized to support Scott’s measures.
“We know the Koch brothers are involved in Wisconsin, so it comes as no surprise that they are in Florida too,” Porta says in a statement. “This governor and legislature’s budget will line the pockets of Wall Street with money taken from the pockets of people on Main Street.”
Americans for Prosperity, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit founded by the Koch brothers and known for opposing labor unions, health care reform, stimulus spending and cap-and-trade legislation, has been involved with events meant to rally supporters behind Scott’s agenda. The tea party’s “Rally to Save Our State” is also slated for March 8, and the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity is offering free bus rides to Tallahassee from a handful of cities around the state.
“Florida’s tax structure is already regressive, making working families pay much more in taxes than the rich and corporations,” Porta says. “People are fed up, and we aren’t going to sit back and let them push our state even further back without a fight.”