Why I have to break up with Florida

Why I have to break up with Florida
© Stefani Reynolds

Dear Florida, breaking up is not easy, but someone has come between us. It was going so well with my tremendous desire to see you when the first flakes of snow wafted in a stiff New York wind, the moonlit jogs on Miami Beach, the butterflies in our stomachs when we committed to spend the rest of our lives with you in retirement homes in Boca and Naples.

But now, your senator, Rick Scott, is opposing federal aid to New York and other states impacted by the coronavirus. He even blocked legislation by his fellow Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana that would give states more flexibility on how they can use the emergency funds.

Scott argues that Congress should not assist any blue state that is, in his estimation, poorly managed. He flaunted his argument in his letter to the editor of the New York Times. He wrote, “It is not fair to Florida citizens to send their tax dollars to bail out liberal politicians in states like New York for their unwillingness to make tough and responsible choices.”

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Not fair? Relationships are all about fairness. They are about give and take. But I have to admit, this relationship between Florida and New York can be rather one sided. Indeed, New York has been doing far more of the giving, while Scott has uncomplainingly enjoyed most of the taking.

When I was elected to Congress in 2000, I was advised in orientation that federal legislators had responsibilities to the entire country, not just to our districts or even our own states. On my first day on the job, I took an oath to the Constitution, which starts with references to a more perfect union, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare. I want you to know that is why my fellow New York members of Congress and I consistently voted to support Florida in difficult times.

In 2004, I voted for nearly $17 million to rehabilitate your oyster reefs that had been decimated by the hurricanes. In 2005, I voted for an emergency appropriation that funded disaster relief operations after more hurricanes swept your state. In 2006, I voted for another emergency appropriation to move $40 million of funds of the Commodity Credit Corporation for crop and other losses with affected Florida counties resulting from hurricanes, tropical storms, and damaging weather in the year before.

I also was happy to support the appropriations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had ended up spending $5 billion in taxpayer funds after another hurricane ravaged your counties three years ago. The governor back then was indeed Scott. In New York, we call that chutzpah. In Florida, you call it, well, chutzpah. It is not his fault alone.

It has been a one way relationship for a long time. In 2017, Florida received $2,000 per resident in net federal funding, as New York received negative $1,800 per resident in net federal funding. Scott likes to argue that part of the reason for the disparity is that New York taxes are simply too high. He may be right about that, but part of the reason for all these relatively high taxes in New York is that we dole out our dollars to Florida.

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Do New York leaders complain about it? Do they hold up vital emergency relief bills when hurricanes and tropical storms impact your communities in Florida? The answer to both of these questions is no. We support these things since we know that when you do well we all do well.

But this is about much more than blue state liberal altruism. We are New Yorkers, and we expect you to hold up your end of the bargain when we need assistance. Our state has been the epicenter of this pandemic. The numbers are devastating with more than 350,000 confirmed cases and over 22,000 coronavirus deaths in New York. The illness is our version of your hurricanes all packed into one heartbreaking punch.

I think we are better off as friends. Maybe we are not ready for the kind of commitment that comes with being Americans. Maybe we can use some alone time. When the next crisis hits, you take care of yourselves, and we will take care of ourselves. It is not you. It is your senator. But if you begin to miss our dollars and subsidies, we will be waiting with open arms. Just do not send flowers. Send federal aid. Sincerely, New York.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.