BY ROBERT MCCLURE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 10/24/18 12:30 PM EDT
The latest battle in the war for the future policy direction of the U.S. is being fought in the Sunshine State and the stakes for the economy and the prosperity Floridians are currently enjoying could not be higher.
As a child of the Cold War, I vividly recall how the U.S. and the Soviet Union would engage in “proxy battles” across the globe. From Cambodia to Ethiopia to El Salvador, the world’s two superpowers used brinkmanship, diplomacy and on occasion direct conflict to press their interests. Some would even make the case that those proxy battles prevented a broader global conflict between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
We are now seeing that same approach play out in real time in the 2018 election. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is not on a national ballot this year, but his agenda and the policy agenda of President Trump are engaged in a proxy battle in the biggest electoral contest of 2018 – Florida’s 44th governor.
Republican Ron DeSantis, enthusiastically endorsed by President Trump, is in a statistical dead heat against Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is supported by Sen. Sanders. In this race we have what many had hoped for in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The two candidates could not be more opposite in their backgrounds and their policy agendas. Ron DeSantis is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law. He then served in the Navy with Seal Team One in Iraq and was elected to Congress in 2012. Andrew Gillum graduated from Florida A & M where he served as student government president and has been a city commissioner and mayor in Tallahassee for 15 years. He is a progressive in principle and supports government-controlled national health care, a $15 minimum wage and increases in Florida’s corporate tax rate to pay for a $50,000 mandated starting salary for Florida’s teachers.
After 20 years of republican governors, this would represent a marked shift in policy direction for the state. But more important than the change in direction is the ultimate question: How would their respective agendas impact Florida? Turns out quite a bit.
In attempting to help Floridians get to the heart of the issues, The James Madison Institute (JMI) released a detailed and thorough analysis of the implications of both gubernatorial candidates’ proposals. The results could not be more distinct.
On one side, candidate Ron DeSantis’ platform of largely maintaining the status quo — keeping Florida a low-tax limited-government state means growth; lots of growth. The JMI analysis projects (with a DeSantis win) an average of more than 200,000 jobs a year and annual economic growth in the $26 billion range.
His proposals to reduce or eliminate Florida’s communications services and business rent tax would continue along the path of tax-cutting set forth by Governors Jeb Bush and Rick Scott.
Shifting to candidate Andrew Gillum’s platform reveals a few things. First, the price tag. Our non-partisan research shows there is no way to accomplish what Gillum is seeking without implementing a state-level income tax or by pushing our current six percent state sales tax into the stratosphere (a measure that would push lower-income Floridians into poverty). Secondl, there is the long-term impact. The authors of our study find that abandoning the current business-friendly climate will mean contraction. With a Gillum win, Florida stands to lose as many as 155,000 jobs per year and a decrease in economic output north of $28 billion.
The 2020 election is still two years away, but rest assured all eyes are on Florida in 2018. The famous saying from the 2000 election rings true 18 years later and as Florida goes, so goes the nation. The Sunshine State will shine a light on our values, our future hopes and our political winds will be recognized as a major bellwether for the nation as a whole.
Robert McClure Ph.D is the president and CEO of The James Madison Institute (JMI), a non-partisan free-market think tank based in Tallahassee, Fla. JMI is devoted to research and education on public policy issues.