Have Your Say on the Budget

12 01 2009

Sink Steps Forward

8 01 2009

Real leadership has been difficult to come by in the Capitol for the Democrats. As we’ve chronicled all week the Democrats themselves have been complicit in many of the reckless fiscal actions taken by the Republican majority since 1999.  All too often Democrats have been silent partners in the undoing of the state’s moral obligation to its citizens.

Alex Sink, the Chief Financial Officer of the State has stepped forward at a critical time to articulate to Legislative Democrats her concerns about the current budget discussion. Sink has expressed concerns about the dipping into trust funds for money as well as leaving savings accounts with too little money. She has also put forth some cost cutting suggestions which the Legislative Democrats would be foolish to not advance on the House and Senate floors.

These include:

–  Hiring more auditors, who can increase collections for the state
–  Moving certain public employees to a four day work week
–  Eliminating printing costs of several book and other publications
–  Using so-called “School Recognition” funds for more essential school needs, or eliminating that spending altogether;
–   Means testing Bright Futures’ scholarships.

None of the above suggestions is particularly pleasant to discuss under normal circumstances but in this climate they are more palatable then raiding trust funds and violating basic budgetary principles. The Democrats would be wise to follow CFO Sink’s suggestions and push as hard as possible to incorporate them in the budget.

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.