Florida and California are somewhat similar when it comes to their tax problems--neither have much flexibility when it comes to raising revenue in bad economic times. In California, the problem is Prop 13, the so-called tax revolt which severely limited how much property taxes could rise. The result of that Proposition is that people who have property for a long period of time can make out like bandits, tax-wise, and the state has to look to other sources to fill the gap, which means income taxes and fees are higher there than in many other states.

Florida's problem is the opposite--property taxes are what we depend on, because we have no income tax, and so when we hit rough economic waters (that affect the housing industry, for instance), our legislature doesn't have much flexibility either. Factor in that we have a legislature controlled by people who believe all taxes are bad, and the budget picture often gets ugly.

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.
I'm going to get all Krugman here for a moment. In a recent column, Paul Krugman talked about the danger of state governors turning into 50 Herbert Hoovers, slashing spending when they should be doing the opposite. He noted that they don't often have much of a choice, because borrowing has gotten really expensive (despite the financial industry bailout) and because many have balanced budget requirements to meet. But look at what Florida's legislature just cut: construction and affordable housing, and the article later points to a huge chunk coming from education, the very places that need money because they have a direct effect on people's lives. Oh, but they avoided raising taxes, as though that's going to matter in a state where people are leaving because wages haven't kept pace with the cost of living for the last 10 years (at least).

To be fair to the legislature, they're only doing what they were hired to do. Republicans in Florida control both Houses as well as the governorship, and they've been elected largely on the strength of their promises to cut spending and lower taxes no matter the cost to public services, and they've held to those promises. Voters are often idiots who don't grasp the concept of the public good and how it affects them, and the Republican party is great at appealing to that side of them, and if that means that teachers don't earn enough to live in their school districts, or police departments don't fill empty positions, or parks have to close, or roads go unbuilt, that's the market speaking, the market in this case being voters who don't want to pay taxes.

We get what we pay for as a society, though, and in Florida, we're already seeing the result of our unwillingness to pay. We're losing population to other, less expensive states. We're losing people in jobs that we rely upon to hold the infrastructure together--teachers, police and firefighters, all manner of service industry workers--and we're cutting spending in the places most likely to help them. In some cases, we're losing these people because we're cutting their jobs; in other cases, it's because they're not getting raises and their salaries aren't keeping up with rising costs of living, but the net result is the same.

Now, all the flexibility in the world wouldn't do much for Florida, given the legislature we currently have--they've gone down the Grover Norquist "taxes are always bad" route and won't turn around until their jobs are threatened. But some flexibility might do future legislators some good. Property taxes might have been a bit too high in recent years, though part of the problem had to do with the housing bubble, and that's correcting it a bit. But they were high because state and local governments didn't have anywhere else to turn for funding. A small income tax would balance that out, and would make it possible for the state to recognize when one area of taxation is out of balance and bring it back in line without having to damage its infrastructure needs in the process. Maybe someone in the legislature can chew on that idea for a bit between now and the next session.

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