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Sen. Arthenia Joyner gives Democratic response

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the Senate Democratic leader, gave a response to Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State. Her remarks as prepared for delivery:

On the road to his first election, Republican Governor Rick Scott promised Floridians that under his 7-step economic plan, “total job growth will accelerate, the number of new business start-ups will increase, wages and salaries will grow, and the productivity and vitality of Florida’s economy will soar.”

Well, this past January, as Governor Scott returned for a second term, the jury came in about all those promises. And the verdict was grim: Florida is taking the lead in the race to the bottom, in large part because all those new jobs Governor Scott has been busy creating are mostly minimum wage. And it’s not working. Just ask Adhanet Kidane, a 30 year old single mom in Tampa, who works two minimum wage jobs at fast-food restaurants.

Sadly, the road to today’s state of the state came at your expense. The ones who prospered before, during, and after the Great Recession never lost their tax breaks, rarely made good on their commitment to create all those high paying jobs, and continued to sock away profits in offshore accounts protected by powerful financial institutions.

The middle class has been sinking while the lifeboats sailed off with the well off and the well connected.

And they have yet to return for your rescue.

Today, while many Floridians see signs of an economy starting to improve, they’re still waiting for the improvements to reach them. Jobs that used to be the first step for teens earning money are now the final steps for adults trying to support themselves and their families. And Florida is no closer to putting hard working people within reach of a family doctor than they were when the national health care law first offered them a fleeting hope of affordable insurance.

Because in the deepening disconnect between this governor and the people, the one glaring gap in all the glowing rhetoric about getting to work, removing government interference, and promises of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” is this: giving the people a fighting chance. Like 45-year old Winter Park resident Alvin Joyner, a single dad raising two young boys who puts in 45-hours a week and is barely scraping by on just under $24,000 a year. An assistant manager, Mr. Joyner is pinning his hopes on his faith and a future promotion to earn a better life for his small family. So far, only his faith has come through.

Unfortunately, Governor Scott just doesn’t get it. But I believe you do.

Any Floridian stuck in a low wage job in a state flush with low wage jobs, gets it. Any homeowner struggling to hold onto their homes when banks get to ignore the rules, gets it. Any student facing crushing debt to get an education, gets it. Anyone stuck in an expensive emergency room because a governor is at war with the president’s health care law, gets it.  Anyone paying high property insurance premiums for minimum insurance coverage, gets it.  And anyone trying to start a small business but can’t get any help because Tallahassee is too busy helping big corporations – gets it.

Governor Scott’s economic policies are still catering to Wall Street, while Main Street is left to fend for itself.  Assuring us that all those minimum wage jobs help “families put food on the table, pay the rent and buy a car,” is easy from the luxury of his private jet; but at ground level it’s an insult when the harder you work, the further you fall behind.

That’s why we need to turn this ship around.

This session, Senate Democrats are sponsoring legislation that promises real help for real people and real small businesses. After all, you work hard for the money you send to Tallahassee. At the end of the day, shouldn’t you have something to show for it too?

Our bills are designed to finally give Floridians a fighting chance to climb into the middle class, and the middle class a ladder to climb higher.  Our plan is to build a new economy by investing in clean technology that will launch an industry manufacturing products proudly stamped “Made in the USA.” That’s why we’re pushing to help businesses like those developing solar energy, freeing us from the stranglehold of traditional fuel. And we want to eliminate cumbersome taxes on vehicles powered by alternative fuel so that more people can buy them.

The Senate Democrats’ mission also includes a fighting chance for those too often forgotten. From raising the minimum wage to bringing Floridians’ federal tax dollars home so that our money covers health care for our people, instead of other states’ – these are the basics any democratic society needs to flourish, and we will raise our voices on their behalf.

As many of you know, Florida is home to a large group of military veterans who have fought valiantly to defend the freedoms we cherish. This legislature has passed bill after bill to help these warriors upon their return home – everything from housing assistance to lowered tuition. But little of that matters if the jobs aren’t there, if the only fighting chance they have to put those skills or that education to work is no chance at all. Little of the housing help matters if they can’t earn enough to pay a mortgage. And none of that matters if the freedom they defended overseas eludes them on their own home soil because - without a fighting chance – there is no hope, and you are not free.

So as you look around you, as you gather around the kitchen table with your families, as you tuck your children into bed at night, ask yourselves: is this the best we can do? After all the belt tightening, the sacrifices, and the hard work – is this the reward? Is this all we can hope for? For ourselves? Our children? Our state?

And if the answer is “no” and you, too, like so many other Floridians – like Adhanet and Alvin - are ready for that fighting chance, then stand with us. Let’s demand the same opportunities from this governor he likes to give to just a select few. And let’s rise together.