Charlie Crist: We can lower taxes and fund schools


Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 5:15 p.m.

Last week's Quality Counts report by Education Week magazine shows that Florida schools rank 14th in the nation, based on performance and policy. While we would all like to see a No. 1 ranking, it is important to recognize Florida's climb from the bottom half of states - 31st last year.

While we have more work to do, student achievement is on the rise in our state.

One reason for our students' success is our outstanding and hard-working teachers. Last week's report also rated Florida fourth in the nation for attracting and retaining top teachers. Florida gained more National Board Certified Teachers last year than any other state, and we are ranked second in our total number of teachers with these impressive qualifications.

Unfortunately, many teachers - as well as other essential professionals such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and nurses - cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. Property values in Florida have soared during recent years, resulting in skyrocketing property taxes, putting the American dream of homeownership out of reach for many. This situation is not right.

Approval of Amendment 1 on Jan. 29 can make a difference for Florida's homeowners - and for those who long to be homeowners. But it doesn't have to make a difference in funding for our students.

My $70 billion state budget includes $138 million to make up for any reductions to local education funding that would come from voter approval of Amendment 1. Per-student funding would increase $394, or 5.46 percent, for a total of $7,606 per student.

Clearly, Amendment 1 is not the only step needed to rein in skyrocketing property taxes. During 2008, the Legislature will consider additional steps. Also, the Taxation and Budget Review Commission is considering ways to reform and modernize Florida's tax structure. However, these opportunities are uncertain.

That is why we should take advantage of the opportunity we have on Jan. 29 to take the next step toward making Florida affordable again.

On Jan. 29, the power to lower property taxes is exactly where it should be - in the hands of the people of Florida. The tax-cut package will jump start Florida's housing market and make Florida even more business friendly - which will generate more revenue for state and local governments and schools.

I appreciate the challenges local governments face in providing essential services while also lowering property taxes. However, lower property taxes do not have to mean less funding for schools or for public safety.

Responsible public officials understand that they must ensure our top priorities: education of our young people and the safety of our communities.

I congratulate the Legislature for their leadership and determination to pass property-tax cuts. What they have done represents only the first step. Now, the power to provide relief rests in the hands of the people of Florida. The choice is up to you.

May God bless you and keep our economy strong and our schools on the rise.

Charlie Crist is governor of Florida.

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