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A wish that Floridians demand only the very best

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2002


One of the most important facts about Florida is that only 33 percent of the people who live here were born here.

Here is a spot of news, though. The percentage of native Floridians is up slightly, from 30 percent a decade ago, according to the Census Bureau.

Migration has tapered off some. Meanwhile, people who moved to Florida had kids of their own -- new "natives."

This is good.

Go to most places in the United States and you'll notice a sense of community, even on a statewide level.

In Iowa, people are conscious of being Iowans. Same for North Carolina (except up in the mountains, where everybody is a Floridian.) Same for Texas.

Overall, 60 percent of Americans live in their native state. Many of the rest have lived in their adopted states long enough to feel as though they have a stake there.

Florida, in contrast, ranks 49th in native population. Only Nevada is peopled with fewer homegrown folks. In the past few decades, as Florida's population exploded, we built a state of strangers.

It takes a while to grow roots.

On top of that, a lot of Floridians came here precisely to avoid higher taxation in other places. We're one of a few states with no income tax at all -- it's forbidden in our state Constitution.

We voted to spare our homes from taxation -- initially, the first $5,000, but that felt so good we bumped it to $25,000. We put caps on property taxes.

We voted for politicians who promised, no matter what needs ever might arise in Florida, not to pay for them.

Toward the end of the past year, a bunch of statistics came out that demonstrated the fruits of Florida's refusal to invest in itself. Let's not repeat them in detail. Basically, we stink in high school graduation, per-student spending, class size, spending on higher education and a lot of other things.

That translates directly into a relatively low-quality economy. We now rank 40th in household median income. We rank last in the percentage of scientists and engineers with doctorates in our work force. The typical job created in Florida is not high-tech; it's selling magazine subscriptions over the telephone.

Here is a question for the new year:

Is this the state you want?

Feel free to say, "You bet it is. I want to rank last in education. I want a lousy work force, based on service jobs."

But I think fewer and fewer Floridians are content with that. Most of the people I've talked to in the past few months about Florida's situation are unhappy with it. They want to do better, for themselves and their kids.

An interesting little thing happened last year. Maybe it was the beginning of a tide turning. Our state Legislature tried to ram through a bill to store untreated surface water in Florida's aquifer. But in their homes, their churches and their workplaces, Floridians rose up -- not in any formal organization, but as a wave of citizens -- and said, are you kidding? Not in OUR aquifer.

It was a new word, one of the first times that so many of our 15-millions had said it together: Our. And the Legislature, amazed, backed down.

So this is not an advocacy of blind, hoggish tax increases, or a return to big, bloated liberal government.

It's just the hope that as more and more Floridians live here longer, and as more and more of us are true natives, we develop that sense of having a stake in things that comes so naturally to an Iowan.

I hope that more Floridians will decide that it is "conservative" to pay for things that we ought to invest in.

I hope that enough Floridians will come to demand the schools and universities that are the backbone of a great state. I hope that Floridians demand leaders who will have the vision and the guts to create future Silicon Valleys and Research Triangles.

Happy New Year.

- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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