August 26, 2007

Florida's One-Legged Stool

Maryland faces a budget shortfall next fiscal year totaling $1.5 billion, approximately the same amount that faced Governor Chiles when he took the reins in Florida in 1991.

One of the wild and wonderful things about Florida politics, however, is that with such a small state tax base to draw from--sales and corporate income tax--each governor has to put the entire budget on the chopping block and cut more than they ever dreamed when recession rolls around. Schools, health care, roads...basic services and salaries get cut. The public rages, but not much reform happens. Governor Chiles used to stay that Florida government was a three-legged stool, depending on the House, Senate, and Governor to work. I think the Florida budget is a one-legged stool (sales tax) and when you kick it (through recession or drop in tourism), the whole thing collapses.

Maryland boasts an income tax, sales tax, and a gas tax, to name just a few. It's even considering raising the gas tax. It's got more than a few legs to stand on. Plus a Democratic legislature with more than a few liberals willing to raise taxes. And a massive federal workforce who are mostly cushioned from recessions.

Florida had none of that in 1991. It seems to me that the Florida governor holds a "Visit Florida!" sign in one hand and a budget ax in the other. He would rather just use the first, but when it doesn't work...the second is his only tool.

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