At the turn of the New Year, Florida’s population surpassed that of New York state, making this the third-most populous state in the country. In recent years, migrants have been flocking to the Sunshine State from the North as part of the expansion of the Sun Belt.
As Floridians take pride in this achievement, there are also a number of issues our state faces.
The southern part of the state is nearing an environmental crisis due to the stagnation and pollution of the Everglades, the threat of over-development and the expectation that climate change will cause sea levels to rise. The political officials in Tallahassee unfortunately show no sign of tackling these challenges head-on.
As our population is increasing, the issue of water shortage is coming to the forefront. The overpumping of water from the Floridan aquifer has robbed its ability to feed our springs during the dry season.
Everybody remembers what happened in the summer of 2013 when the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers were covered in thick, algae-produced blooms. It was a scene that resembled death itself.
But — unsurprisingly — the 2014 legislative session did not pass the bill meant to protect the springs that was considered important by many state lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the cost of inaction increases more and more. Reduced flows will cause saltwater to intrude into the aquifer, rendering the water undrinkable. With this new set of challenges, the state has steered clear of conservation methods but has turned to getting its water supply not from ground water but from the surface water of rivers and lakes.
Florida still has a long way to go in terms of social justice, too.
To Florida’s credit, same-sex couples can now marry and reap the same benefits that married straight couples do.
But the justice system is failing many other communities. Florida has increased its number of private prisons that seek to line the pockets of politicians at the expense of young people of color. Focusing on low-level crimes to fill prison space is immoral and, in many ways, costly.
The counterproductive war on drugs, voter suppression, the school-to-prison pipeline and an underfunded education system serve to destroy communities rather than build them.
The state’s economic failures impact Florida’s future as well. Tax incentives and tax abatement policies, part of the Legislature’s “job creation” package, seem to have failed to attract skilled workers or jobs in manufacturing and high-end service.
In fact, the state has only attracted one Fortune 500 company in the past decade. This is pretty pathetic considering Florida, once the envy of the region, is a state of nearly 20 million people.
The state has failed to create a climate of innovation and attract new industries. But a new year brings new beginnings. We as the UF student body have an obligation to get educated about issues that affect thousands of Floridians each and every day.
Let’s talk about rebuilding Florida from being the butt of national jokes to a state that takes control of its future in the 21st century.
The good news is more and more lonely voices are chiming in to tell politicians: No more business as usual.
No time is better than the start of a new year to begin a conversation.
Harold Joseph is a UF political science junior.
[A version of this story ran on page 6 on 1/8/2015 under the headline "Florida needs to take control of its future"]