NAPLES — Seasonal residents aren’t the only things heading from Wisconsin to Collier County this winter.
Budget cut protests came Tuesday afternoon. Marching along Fifth Avenue South in Naples, about 150 retirees, teachers, firefighters, students and children held up signs with such phrases as “Cut Corporatacracy” and chanted “stop Scott,” protesting the budget proposal of Gov. Rick Scott in his own backyard.
The protest, unusual for downtown Naples, was met with a finger by those who were enjoying the shops and eateries before the chanting began — a thumb. From store windows, cars and cafe tables, those witnessing the protest gave thumbs up, waved, honked horns and yelled words of support.
A rainbow stretched across the skies that sun-showered the group, but the event was not without conflict. Two men, both of whom refused to provide their name, heckled the protesters.
“Get a job slackers,” one heckler, who later said he was an Illinois resident, screamed from his car.
“You sound like a bunch of ducks,” another heckler said from in front of a real estate office.
“Go back to not selling homes,” a protester yelled back.
The group amassed outside Naples City Hall at 4 p.m. and returned to Cambier Park to hold a rally that lasted until just after 6 p.m. The protest was one of about 30 throughout Florida organized by Awake the State, which began as a page on the social networking website Facebook put together by Progress Florida, Florida Watch Action and America Votes.
“We can’t let the corporations or the wealthy make decisions for the rest of us,” letter carrier Mike Stone told the group during the rally. “We need as many people as we can.”
The organizer of the event, Bill Van Arsdale, has lived in Naples since 1957 and said he had never seen a protest like this, but added that he knew why.
“It’s government by, for and of the corporations,” Van Arsdale said of Scott’s budget.
Scott’s “Lets Get To Work” budget proposal overcomes the state’s $3.6 billion estimated shortfall while still bringing in its first year alone a $1 billion cut to property taxes, a $458 million corporate income tax cut, and a $235 million cut to motor vehicle fees.
The corporate tax cut, if re-invested in new jobs, could by itself fund 11,450, $40,000-annual-salary-and-benefits gigs for the 1.1 million Floridians the U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistics listed as unemployed in December 2010.
However, the protesters see Scott’s proposal hurting, not helping, Florida’s workforce.
“These are too many cuts for the wrong reasons,” unemployed teacher Karen Dwyer said during the rally. “He plans to take from the poor and give to the rich.”
Under Scott’s proposal, 8,600 state employee positions would be eliminated, and 655,000 state and county employees would pay 5 percent of their salaries to their retirement. Local school districts and water management districts would see cuts, as would the state’s corrections system and programs serving children, families, the elderly, the poor and the sick.
During the rally, some suggested eliminating corporate tax loopholes and sales tax exemptions — ideas discussed in Tallahassee for years — instead of cuts to overcome the budget shortfall.
Bonita Springs resident Catherine Jermain, who gave her age as “senior citizen,” marched in a wheel chair during the event.
“I hope it brings some sense to Governor Scott,” Jermain said of the event. “He wants to bilk the public sector.”
Naples resident and firefighter Eloy Ricardo said he hoped the event would remind legislators debating the budget in Tallahassee of who is in charge.
“It starts at the grassroots level and moves on,” Ricardo said during the rally. “Your vote does count on election day.”