Party favors all around


Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 11:52 p.m.
Lawmakers would rather give tax breaks than invest in Florida's future.
It's an election year, let's have tax breaks all around.
The Republicans in Tallahassee are talking about a one-week sales tax holiday on purchases of less than $5,000. It would cost the state $500 million, but Florida is apparently awash in revenues, with a surplus of $3.2 billion this year, so no big deal.
The Democrats would rather give a $100 rebate to all homestead property owners.
Call them party favors.
So what's wrong with giving the taxpayers a break in an election year?
Well, for one thing, it's short-sighted.
Last year, a well regarded study from the LeRoy Collins Institute cautioned that while Florida may be flush with cash right now, tougher times are surely coming when the housing market inevitably cools off. Meanwhile, two fiscal obligations alone, Medicaid and public education mandates, will continue to escalate.
"Bottom line, net general revenue is estimated to grow in the coming five years at barely half the rate the state has enjoyed for the last two," the report said. "That's a dead mismatch to the cost side of the budget, where pressures to fund pre-K education, Medicaid and other state needs will be as intense as any time in recent history.
"Florida is staring straight at a significant shortfall - and some very tough choices."
Is this really a year for party favors?
Shouldn't state legislators be looking to use any revenue surplus as a "down payment" on the obligations that we know are just around the corner? Don't "tax holidays" and rebate checks send the wrong message - that the boom times are never going to end and there's no reason to worry about what the Collins Institute calls a "predictable slowdown"?
Is giving back $500 million the responsible thing to do when we know that the class-size amendment alone will cost cost an estimated $2 billion a year?
Isn't it rather frivolous for our elected officials to offer party favors all around when they ought to be investing in Florida's future while they have the discretionary revenues to do so?
Politics is easy. Governing is hard. Handing out tax breaks is the easy way out for lawmakers in this election year. Investing in Florida's future is considerably more difficult.

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