Protestors greeted Florida lawmakers Tuesday as the annual legislative session convened. Private school vouchers and a proposed tax-cut package were among the issues protestors wished to highlight - and condemn.
Supporters of the Awake the State effort, many affiliated with teacher, law enforcement, civil service and others mostly with organized labor and faith-based groups, visited Cape Coral. A cross-section of workers was represented, as well. Protestors in about a dozen Florida cities rallied for the same cause, which organizers said brings awareness to spending priorities. Awake the State attaches symbolism to March 4, the first day lawmakers convene a 60-day session.
The protestors lining Cultural Park Boulevard waved signs and acknowledged drivers tooting horns in front of the Cape City Hall.
Jacki Halbisen, a Cape Coral city worker, waves to passersby.
"Teachers have not wanted to get involved in politics," said Bryan Bouton, a Cape protestor who serves as president of the Charlotte County Florida Education Association. "They'd let others decide their fate. And we can't afford to do that anymore."
The Awake the State effort is in its fourth year. The group's aim is to pressure state lawmakers into increasing budget allocations in education, health care, natural resources, renewable energy, bridges and roads, programs benefiting the broader population.
They also want taxes restructured to favor middle-class workers, a demographic considered the most vulnerable to cuts in any budget, state and local, protestors insist. The current tax code favors the wealthy and corporations, protest advocates said.
"Three percent of my salary is supposed to go to the state pension, but goes directly into the state general fund," said Dave Stokes, a Charlotte County firefighter at the protest event. "The (Florida) lawmakers have basically voted to kill our pension."
Gov. Rick Scott was not available for comment. Indirectly and following his State of the State address, he was eager to talk about funding and jobs, at least on social media.
"We have great teachers in this state," he wrote on Facebook. "We are going to continue to invest the right amount of money in education to make sure our children can have great careers."