Florida The Petri Dish For E Coli Conservatism

Isaiah J. Poole

There are unfortunately many states where we will be able to see the disastrous effects of conservatism run amok over the coming months, but Florida bears particular watching. The Republican-dominated legislative session there ended earlier this month, and Gov. Rick Scott pretty much got what he wanted: a political Disneyland of business privatization and deregulation that punishes the economically vulnerable and coddles the wealthy.

The state, in other words, now offers the perfect conditions for e. coli conservatism to thrive and show its effects. Floridians are already being politically sickened by what they are seeing—Scott has among the highest disapproval ratings in polls of any major Republican figure—but more state residents could even be physically sickened by the effects of the extreme right-wing policies Scott is signing into law.

A video released today by the Campaign for America’s Future highlights three policies now being ushered into law by Scott: Medicaid privatization, prison privatization and deep cuts in unemployment benefits.

Medicaid would essentially be turned over to the state’s private managed care industry, where the companies that stand to profit include a chain of urgent care clinics Scott himself founded in 2001. In addition to gaining control of $20 billion in health care spending, they will be operating under rules that give them considerable leeway to deny care—as well as the financial incentive to do so. A pilot program in South Florida raised serious questions about the impact of the proposed changes, but Scott and the state’s Republican legislature ignored the criticisms.

State prisons, first in South Florida and eventually statewide, would be administered by such private corporations as GEO, the company formerly known as the Wackenhut security firm. GEO and similar companies in the prison business contributed $1 million to Florida candidates during the last election cycle, a modest investment in order to get a significant slice of the $2.4 billion state corrections budget. The plan was sold to taxpayers as a cost-saving measure, but the record of private prisons actually being cheaper than government-run prisons is highly questionable.

The state’s unemployed residents will take a serious hit now that unemployment benefits will be cut from 26 weeks to 23, and even less as the unemployment rate declines. Florida’s unemployment rate in April was 10.8 percent, at a time when the national average was 9 percent and when 42 percent of the jobless had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. If the state’s unemployment rate dips below 5 percent, unemployed workers will have their benefits cut after 12 weeks. The impact of such a cut will, of course, fall hardest on the state’s urban and low-income communities, where unemployment rates are more than double the state average. Cutting what businesses are obligated to pay into the state unemployment compensation fund is one of a number of tax breaks businesses received this year at the expense of the economic security of Florida residents.

In fact, the litany of ideologically driven changes that will harm everyday Floridians are well beyond what could be listed in a two-minute video, including cuts in a broad range of education, health and social service programs. The breadth of destructive change caused the chairman of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, Nelson Easterling, to write, “As a citizen and an outside observer, I can only say that [the 2011 legislative session] may have been the worst I have witnessed. The negative effects have the potential of creating a disaster for this state of epic proportions.”

Our video satirizes what is unfolding in what could be called the “Ain’t No Sunshine” State, but the stakes couldn’t be more serious. Our ability to pierce through the spin around the e. coli conservatism being spread in state capitols from Tallahassee to Trenton and to change the national conversation about the role of government depends on carefully watching, exposing and protesting the effects of these policies.

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