A Disaster Of Tallahassee’s Choosing

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St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler discusses what will be the biggest issue of the 2011 Florida legislature: our budget…and how much of it will remain by May when the legislature will likely adjourn:

There’s a new crop of Republicans in town, and they say They Really Mean It.

Florida is running $3.6 billion short for the coming year’s budget, according to the latest estimate. The final number could be more.

And yet every indication from Dean Cannon, the new speaker of our state House …

And Mike Haridopolos, the new president of our state Senate …

And Rick Scott, our new governor …

Every indication is that they intend to meet this shortfall largely by cutting spending.

Scott even says he can cut enough to meet the shortfall, yet keep cutting taxes to boot.

The problem with the debate were having this year, just like every since we started seeing budget shortfalls in 2007, is the discussion is always focused on cuts instead of investment. Of course, our politicians keep telling us the same thing. We have no money! Government has a spending problem! Sorry to be blunt, but this is absolute garbage and part of an alternate reality devoid of facts.

Here’s the thing – would I shock you if I said Florida doesn’t have to cut anything this year? Because we don’t. We don’t have to endanger what little of an economic recovery we have going. We don’t have to lay off thousands of teachers, police officers, firefighters, safety inspectors, and park rangers. We don’t have to grow our unemployment rolls. We don’t have to accept the falsehoods being told to us by politicians who say things like the government’s budget is just like a family’s budget. State legislators in Tallahassee don’t have to cause an immense amount of unnecessary pain for Floridians by hacking up their government’s budget.

As my friend Nancy Noonan demonstrated in an op-ed to the Star-Banner close to a year ago, budget cuts are unnecessary to balance Florida’s budget:

Fortunately, the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy has identified several areas where our state can raise the more than $3 billion required to ensure there are no cuts in this year’s budget, particularly to our schools. Some of these items include modernizing our state’s sales tax by removing unnecessary exemptions and eliminating unnecessary corporate income tax exemptions. And those are only selected recommendations. The reality is that Florida annually gives up $12 billion a year in potential sales tax revenues and another $20.9 billion in potential service tax revenues.

At the end of the day, budget cuts are completely unnecessary.

FCFEP’s recommendations can be found here. Many, if not all, of those frivolous sales tax exemptions and corporate income tax loopholes still exist. I think the Florida legislature should actually debate this, rather than simply take any kind of revenue enhancements and new sources of public investment off the table completely. As a Florida taxpayer, I would have no problem paying a sales tax on bottled water if it meant keeping some of my local public school teachers on the job. I don’t mind having a limited liability corporation (LLC) pay corporate income taxes like other businesses do in Florida in order to maintain public safety and ensure firefighters can put out a blaze in my neighborhood quickly and save lives.

If the Florida legislature, dominated by conservative Republicans, goes ahead and does what is predicted – pass a cuts-only budget – it will be a disaster of their own making. In that scenario, Florida voters should know their representatives in Tallahassee had a choice this year – and they chose to put the hurt on you.