FY 2009 State Budget Carnage: Florida

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The situation in Florida is worst of all. Governor Crist recently signed into law a $66 billion budget which slashed spending across the board, leaving Florida's public education, justice and health care systems in peril. As a recession, coupled with inflation, hits Floridians particularly hard, it is becoming clear that a sales tax on its own cannot possibly come close to adequately funding necessary programs. The cuts to public education amount to a reduction in spending of $130 per child at a time when Florida has the worst drop-out rate in the country. Tuition at community colleges and universities will rise by 6%. These institutions, forced to cut spending, are struggling to attract, recruit and retain valuable faculty members. Payments to hospitals serving the poor will be eliminated. It's predicted that cuts to nursing homes will lead to massive layoffs and shut-downs. Homes for the developmentally disabled will be forced to limit services. The justice system must cope with huge job cuts, with the burden being borne primarily by case-specific divisions such as sex crimes and drug arrests. Increased fees and wait times for justice services will disproportionately affect the poor as well as indigents, battered women and rape victims.

Governor Crist believes that strangling services for the most vulnerable in his state will "maintain the gains that Florida has achieved over the past several years." Would the worst drop-out rate in the nation fall under "gains"? How about the fact that Florida is the only state that does not waive court fees for indigents? Is an exodus of university professors a "gain"? Meanwhile, funds are allocated toward tourism marketing and promotion and economic-development incentives for new industry and film production. Florida can barely afford to educate its children but is more than willing to promote its image for tourists (despite the nationwide recession) and bring in big-time movie productions (which provide only temporary employment and economic benefits).

David Denslow, head of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Demographic Research contends that reducing a state's budget actually amplifies and spreads the effects of a recession. Clearly the preservation of tax breaks for the wealthy and the second most regressive tax system in the nation are also in no way stimulating the economy. Florida's lack of an income tax has actually worsened its situation under the current economic conditions. Rhode Island and New Jersey lawmakers, beaming with pride over their recent "tax-free" budget agreements, should take careful notice of Florida's crisis and avoid making the same "gains."

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