The Florida legislature ended their special session in what has become the new Republican method: borrow and slash. Raise taxes? Perish the thought.
“We used every tool at our disposal except any tax increases,” said House education budget chief David Rivera, R-Miami. “That was the commitment made at the beginning of session … and we fulfilled that commitment.”
Combined with cuts to health care, classrooms and universities, the plan imposes high fines on traffic offenders and slaps nursing homes with a new “assessment” that should help them draw down more federal dollars.
The Legislature’s more than $2.6 billion in budget patchwork that was put together over the weekend heads for a final vote Wednesday.
Beyond the $917 million in cuts to government services and programs, the plan slashes $321 million in construction projects, takes $190 million out of the state’s affordable housing trust fund, detours another $300 million from assorted other trusts, drains Florida’s budget-stabilization fund of $400 million and “borrows” $700 million from the Lawton Chiles endowment.
The cuts will freeze the state’s heralded Florida Forever land conservation program from buying any more endangered property for the year, netting $20 million in savings. It also drains $190 million from an affordable housing trust fund used to build low-rent apartments and workforce housing.
School districts will absorb a $480 million cut, although lawmakers agreed to let districts use more of their construction dollars raised through local property taxes on school buses, insurance and computer systems.
“It’s been difficult work, nothing I think any of us would like to do,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander said after he and his House counterparts, Miami Reps. Rivera and Marcelo Llorente, exchanged their final back-and-forth offers.
But they didn’t raise taxes. Not even on easy targets like cigarettes or closing corporate loopholes because they know that as soon as they try to do something like that, they’ll be bombarded by lobbyists who will make, at first, pleading appeals to save their pork, followed then by veiled threats to find a candidate at the next election who will listen to them. They know what works; corporations can vote; students in schools where the roofs leak can’t.
Obviously, raising taxes willy-nilly in a recession isn’t the way to go either, but if these dedicated public servants spent one-tenth of the time figuring out how to make everyone pay their fair share and had the guts to stand up to the anti-tax-at-any-cost lobby, they’d get a lot more done. So saying that they made the “hard choices” is just a lot of rhetoric that they’ll use to arm themselves for the next election campaign when they can go out on the hustings and say “I made the hard choices” when all they really did is borrow money against the future of the citizens in need — and who can’t afford big lobbying firms — and and cut the spending out of education. And then they’ll come back in three months and wonder why test scores are falling along with the ceilings in the schools.
But they didn’t raise your taxes.