Florida’s Budget “Crisis”: How We Got Here

4 01 2009

The state of Florida is in the midst of yet another budget crisis. For the fourth time this decade the Florida Legislature has been forced into a costly Special Session in order to rectify the budget mess. In 20o1, the Legislature cut $800 million in social services, public education and corrections. The budget crisis was blamed by Legislative leaders and Governor Jeb Bush on the fallout for 9/11. But the reality is the constant tax cuts by the legislature in the 1999-2001 time period as well as the failure to cut the growth of spending at the same time was a ticking time bomb. Speaker of the House Tom Feeney leading a group of ideologues believed economic growth stimulated by tax cuts would trump making difficult decisions.

The next regular legislative session, Senate President John McKay had a tax plan that would have alleviated many of Florida’s recurring funding issues. The plan which passed the Senate was rejected in the Feeney led House 99-0 and opposed publicly by Governor Bush. Democrats joined the majority Republicans in the House in rejecting this common sense plan. Some Democrats led by Rep. Lois Frankel walked out of the chamber in protest about the lack of debate Feeney was allowing on the plan, but all too many Democrats stayed in the chamber and voted to continue Florida’s reckless fiscal ways.

This year $2.3 billion needs to be trimmed from the state budget. Republican leaders and the Governor conveniently blame the current worldwide economic malaise for this necessity. But interestingly enough nobody in the GOP camp wants to acknowledge the damage done to the state by run away tax cuts including the repeal of the intangibles tax and the reduction of property taxes. Additionally these tax cuts have failed to stimulate the kind of growth in business that conservatives who subscribe to the supply side theory of economics claimed it would.

Governor Crist has shown little leadership in this crisis. A classic politician, Crist seems to want to satisfy the conservative base of his party while playing nice to Democrats who are in the minority. The Democrats themselves with precious few exceptions have also been silent in the past several years. The party has had strong leadership from the likes of Rep. Dan Gelber (now a Senator) and former Rep. Doug Wiles, but have failed collectively to make the points publicly to affect public opinion and the behavior of state government. The Democrats have failed at the same time as the GOP led state government has failed.

A Legislature led by a Speaker of the House whose own public behavior is now the subject of many editorials asking him to step down does not have the moral authority to make what may amount to life and death decisions for millions of Floridians. What is even more galling is that the Democrats have been nearly silent about the causes of this “crisis,” with the exception of a few lonely voices. Year after year, Democratic Legislators are satisfied with inadequate funding level for Universities, Public Schools, Social Sevrices and other critical issues. These same legislators are satisfied with “take home” bills that do little to address Florida’s mounting fiscal and moral crisis. These legislators have failed the progressive causes they claim to favor and deserve to be blamed along with the Republican majority for our current problems.

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One response

4 01 2009
South Florida voter

Well said. While Democrats are the minority in Tallahassee they do have the numbers to make people listen. Granted, they have no say in committees or even on the floor, but why aren’t our leaders making demands of the leadership. Why are they accepting that the tobacco tax can’t be discussed during special session? Why aren’t they discussing how Crist’s foolish campaign to “lower” property taxes put us further into this crisis. And what are the D’s in Tallahassee going to do these next 2 weeks to see that education isn’t cut further and that more money is put into the Agency for Workforce Innovation to process unemployment applications. Speaking of unemployment compensation, why aren’t they working on a bill to raise the $275 per week maximum that is allowed in Florida. What’s the point of having Democrats at all up there if they don’t speak up?

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