Florida is suffering worse than most parts of the country during this current recession. The state has cut critical services while continuing the ideological priorities of the majority party by not seeking new revenue streams and not scaling back the outrageous regressive tax cuts of the past several years.
Even more troubling is the raiding of the Lawton Chiles Endowment fund. As we’ve chronicled on this website, the GOP fought Governor Chiles when he courageously took on the tobacco companies on behalf of Florida’s citizens. The Legislature had the opportunity to write language to the document ensuring repayment of the fund. Cynically thinking, perhaps this decision by the GOP leadership is an attempt to kill the fund altogether. In the last several days Governor Crist has shown more good faith than I expected of him on this issue. However, the Legislature, particularly the House which has only two members that were around for the fights of the 1990s (Rep. Ron Saunders and Rep. Faye Culp,) has shown nothing but bad faith on this very serious issue.
I do not like cuts in education, which is already woefully funded in Florida, but I personally am much more concerned about losing $40 million from Developmental Disabilities waivers and $100 from Hospital Care than the $500 million cut statewide from K-12. Given the percentage of the overall budget that K-12 funding represents, it actually made out well in these cuts compared to other critical statewide programs.
This choice did not have to be made: by ruling out of bounds any attempts to enhance revenue in this Special Session the leadership of this state made it a choice between Education and Health Care. Now while both were cut, the Education was cut a lot less severely as a percentage of overall spending than Healthcare, or Children’s Health. The raiding of the Chiles Fund to save education dollars and mask the shortfalls of several years of tax cutting is not acceptable either.
We’ve discussed at length on this website the 2002 Class Size Amendment which Kendrick Meek spearheaded statewide. School Districts have known they would have to implement this change in the law for six years and yet still claim they are having trouble because of inadequate funding. For the most part Legislators of both parties have sided with the districts on this matter and seem to wish the class size mandate would go away.
Another horrible cut is that of affordable housing to the tune of $190 million from yes, a trust fund. The raiding of trust funds that exist for purposes of low income health care and housing sadly fits the GOP’s ideological agenda of the past several years. Education cuts may sting but cuts to trust funds and programs that affect the most vulnerable in our society sting even more.