The food chain

Gov. Bush is planning to let Florida's property taxpayers pick up at least $220 million of the state's fiscal obligations.

Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 9:35 p.m.
Politics is all about the big fish eating the little fish. And on the political food chain, the minnows are the locals, and they're always on the menu.
So it should surprise no one that Florida's Kingfish, Gov. Jeb Bush, proposes to balance the state budget on the backs of local governments - even as he continues to shower his favorite charity group, wealthy investors, with still more tax cuts.
We were among those who recently commended Bush for his initiative to funnel about $171 million in additional assistance to Florida's rural counties.
Many of those counties have such small revenue bases that they can barely afford to keep their roads paved and their communities policed, and any help they can get from the state will be much appreciated.
But it turns out that Bush's rural relief package is just a handful of fish flakes.
Just a little appetizer to divert attention away from his plan to force all Florida counties to subsidize the state budget this year, thus leaving Bush free to offer up still more tax breaks by way of election-year party favors.
An analysis of the governor's budget proposals by the Florida Association of Counties estimates that local property taxpayers will have to pick up at least $220 million of the state's fiscal obligations.
And if county commissioners around the state have to either raise local taxes or cut local services to make up for that hit, well, that's no skin off Jeb's nose.
"In light of Florida's recovering economy, it's astonishing that the governor would propose an additional reduction in the tangibles tax and a continuation of the sales tax holiday at the same time he shifts costs onto local property owners," said Mary Key Cariseo, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties.
"Shifting costs to the counties means that local homeowners pay through their property taxes. That's not tax relief."
In the governor's budget request, the counties will pick up more than half of $223 in court funding.
This by way of implementing a constitutional amendment that, ironically, was intended to force the state to pay for its fair share of judicial system expenses.
In addition, the counties are expected to kick in nearly $87 million to run state juvenile detention centers. In essence, those centers would become de facto county jails, except that the state would continue to run them.
"Counties have no ability to hold down costs by making sure these programs are efficient and well-managed," Cariseo notes.
Bush's budget also would increase county contributions to the state retirement fund.
Furthermore, as he did last year, Bush intends to finance his tax cuts by raiding various state trust funds - including $116 million from the Local Government Housing Trust Fund that helps communities finance affordable housing.
In Bush's political jungle, local governments are just small fish to be gobbled up while the big fish grab all the credit for keeping costs down and taxes low.
We hope the Legislature will see through the ruse and reject Bush's plan to force local property taxpayers to subsidize state government.

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