Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Florida's poverty a problem of our own making

Contributed by Paul Hunt
School of Social Work, Florida International University
I greatly appreciate Daniella Levine’s Op-Ed piece “Rise in Poverty Threatens Florida’s Future (Miami Herald, September 24, 2011) in which she speaks about the plunge Florida is currently taking into an abyss of wider and wider spread poverty.  This is a frightening situation which everyone in our state needs to take very seriously.  However, I would like to add that this is a situation mostly of our own making.  It is critical that we first decide what kind of community we want to be.  A series of decisions made by elected officials and community leaders, seemingly ratified by the residents of our state, have created conditions in our community that are completely unsustainable and have led to a state of a rapidly widening gaps in income and very unfair burdens upon those least able to bear them.
I refer to the work done over the years by the well-respected Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, a non-profit, independent research organization that also develops new ideas and advises policymakers on state fiscal and economic policy in order to improve the well-being of all Floridians.  A recent report by the Center cites the fact that Floridians in poverty now number more than the total populations of Tampa and Orlando combined.  However, the Center’s report contends, an unbalanced tax structure and recent budget cuts hold back economic recovery.  Basically, Florida’s tax structure is not adequate to meet the needs of its people nor is it a fair system of taxation.  Of Florida’s $69.2 state budget, about one-third ($23.9 billion) comes from General Revenue and about 73% of General Revenue is from the Florida state sales tax.  Another $24 billion of the state budget comes from the Federal Government.
Florida’s tax system is the second-most unfair in the country.  The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that works on state and federal tax policy issues, reported that in 2009 the poorest 20 percent of Floridians paid an average of 13.5 percent of their incomes in Florida taxes while the wealthiest 1 percent paid 2.1 percent of their incomes in Florida taxes on average.  While Florida has the 15th lowest state and local taxation in the country as a share of personal income, the heavy reliance by Florida on property and sales taxes basically means Florida is a low-tax state for the wealthy but not for low and middle income Floridians.  State and local taxes paid by the poorest 20 percent of nonelderly Floridians are the second highest in the country.
In recent years the Florida Legislature has eliminated taxes on wealthy Floridians and has increased regressive taxes and fees each year, 2009 being one in which these taxes and fees were raised by more than $2 billion.  Florida has more than 240 sales tax exemptions totaling annually some $10.4 billion lost to state revenue.   And there are more exclusions and exemptions that force Florida to lose out on billions more in potential revenue.
And the gap between the low and middle income and high income citizens continues to widen.   The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, nationally, the 40 percent of the lowest income Americans earned only 12 percent of all household income.  Nearly 75% of all household income was earned by the top 40 percent of the wealthiest households in the country.
Until Florida addresses its widening disparities in income and its unfair tax structure, the state will continue to lose ground as a place that has the well-being of all of its people as its first and foremost priority.  We only have ourselves to blame.  As long as we continue to blindly elect people to public office who will not address these tremendous challenges that the state continues to face, we will find ourselves in an ever-deeper hole out of which we need to dig ourselves.  We need to collectively decide what is the community we want to be and then demand that our political and community leaders take the necessary steps to get Florida back on track.

1 comment:

  1. Something to relate to. I would like also to share something....

    To my fellow Americans, please read this. It's very sad that poverty continues to rise and wealth gap continues to widen in the US.