Wednesday, April 30, 2008

School Stickup

From the Miami Herald:

Of the myriad losers in a state budget that cuts a record $4 billion in spending, public education will lose the most — with Miami-Dade and Broward schools getting hit hardest of all.

The two biggest counties together will shoulder more than a third of the $332 million in cuts to K-12 classroom spending in the proposed budget lawmakers will approve when the legislative session ends Friday.

Those school cuts are a fraction of the total slashed from education: $2.3 billion — 55 percent of the total cuts — which will reduce spending on everything from construction to class programs in kindergarten through graduate school.

But classrooms won’t be the only ones feeling the pinch of a $66.2 billion budget that represents the largest one-year drop in state spending. In the next few months, Floridians will pay more for boat registration, driver licenses and court fees as well as drunken-driving fines and college tuition.

Meanwhile, reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes are decreasing, as is money for foster care and financial aid for students at private colleges.

The biggest budget winner: prison builders. They’ll get $305 million to build one private and two public lockups. By the end of the budget year on June 30, 2009, the prison population is anticipated to swell to 107,000.

As one of the opponents to the cuts to school funding noted, it’s probably a good idea to put more money into building prisons; we’re going to need them.

”Our priorities are upside down and backwards,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach. ”There’s a direct correlation between failure in schools and numbers of people going to prison. We’re funding what we’re causing by not funding education. We’re not investing money on the front end. We’re just spending it on the back end.”

Oh, but don’t worry; there’s plenty of money for pet projects:

• $1 million for a Doral park irrigation project requested by Rep. David Rivera and Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, two Miami Republicans.

• $12 million for a connector road serving a new Panama City airport that has been pushed by Florida’s largest private land owner, the St. Joe Company.

• $700,000 to study whether to build a rail line connecting western Miami-Dade County with the city of South Bay.

• $1.2 million to bury electric lines, bicycle paths and sidewalks alongside a state road in Orange County.

• $840,000 for Exponica International, the annual Latin America cultural festival held in Miami. Gov. Crist vetoed money for this event last year.

$15.7 million is a rounding error when you’re talking about a $66 billion budget, but if the legislature was truly serious about making up for the shortfalls that they brought on themselves through their own short-sightedness and poor planning, they’d get the St. Joe Company to pay for their own road.