Andrew Starling: Scott's tactics carry the stench of fear-mongering

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 at 2:26 p.m.

While much of Florida's fiscal debate has been focused on Gov. Rick Scott's consistent refusals of federal stimulus money, another vital investment has been placed on Tallahassee's chopping block.

The crippling cuts to our state universities are inflicting lasting damage that will be felt for decades to come. Diversionary measures such as publicizing the salaries of Florida's state university employees or dictating what majors students should enroll in (small government?) removes the focus from the real and important problems at hand.

Scott seems to enjoy encouraging public outrage, just so long as it doesn't involve his disappearing emails or promises of state subsidies.

If he wants outrage, look no further than the issue of state university funding. The statistics speak for themselves.

Florida as a whole now ranks 50th, or dead last in the nation for local and state per capita funding toward higher education. In the past three years, the University of Florida's state appropriation has been cut by 25 percent, or over $150 million.

The University of Central Florida's budget has been cut by about $100,000 a day over that same period. Miami Dade College, one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the United States, has lost nearly 20 percent of its state funding.

And last year, the governor recommended cutting education spending by another $3.3 billion.

Our elected officials need to understand that education policy is not a zero-sum game. It is going to be tough for Florida's young people to “get to work” when they cannot even get to school.

Gov. Scott was elected on two promises: improving employment and holding government accountable. I am less inclined to place all the blame on him for the current state of employment in Florida given the prevailing trends nationwide.

But if in Rick Scott's Florida, publishing the salaries of people giving their livelihoods to the betterment of our state constitutes accountability, we have trouble right here in River City. Telling the world how much money their friends and neighbors make is not constructive. It doesn't solve any of our problems.

Surely, any time a list is put together that comprises over 50,000 people, there is bound to be a few bad apples that are overpaid and underworked. However, in my experience as both an undergraduate and current graduate student at the University of Florida, they represent an infinitesimal minority.

Indeed, it is these very professors who create the most value for the students and the state as a whole. It is these very professors who, on average, are paid thousands of dollars below the national standard. It is these very professors who may work in a college where the state funds less than 20 percent of the budget.

So what purposes did disclosing their income serve? Gov. Scott's actions do not represent accountability. They have the unmistakable stench of fear-mongering.

Future reductions to the state budget are inevitable. But it is time to move beyond high publicity diversions and focus on making smart, equitable cuts.

Placing a majority of the burden on the state's youngest adults is neither fair nor smart. We are facing big, complex problems here in Florida.

It is up to Gov. Scott to decide whether he is comfortable in continuing to blindly assign blame for them, or if he is actually interested in doing his job to solve them.

Andrew Starling is a first-year law student at the University of Florida.

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