Continuing in his quest to become the most short-sighted Governor in recent Florida history, Charlie Crist is readying four proposals that would appear on the ballot with him in 2010. (Of course, the Governor has been coy in saying exactly where he will appear on the ballot, but it’s certain to be either the Governor’s race or the US Senate race.) Like the Governor’s other property tax proposals, these have a populist ring, but turn a blind eye to the current (and ongoing) budget crisis the state is facing. Once again, Crist is engaging in an effort to seize more power from local governments, which raises the question—Why do we even have local governments if the state is intent on neutering them?
Crist’s proposals, which would cut property taxes by an estimated $600 million, would put local government and public school budgets in further crisis. (Let’s not forget Florida may not get billions in federal stimulus monies because we have actually cut education funding, not increased it.) But, for the consummate political opportunist, the future of Florida is not important. The next election is what is truly important.
Most political analysts who follow presidential politics say that Charlie Crist has his heart set on challenging Barack Obama in 2012. His next move will be made with the sole purpose of furthering that goal. If the state’s budget crisis continues and Crist sees no quick fixes (seeing as he has already raided the state’s trust funds to balance the last budget), expect him to make the jump to the US Senate race.
What he is doing in the process; however, is pit the retirees of southern Florida against the young families of north and central Florida. By focusing on property tax cuts (which are minimal when actually calculated on a per household basis), the Governor has a guaranteed support base who will vote for anything that will save them $50 a year, even at the expense of slashing education funding for the state’s children. In actuality, when you truly get to the heart of the matter, there are a number of these individuals who retired to Florida from other states who have no vested interest in the state’s children. They have retired here, often times because there is no state income tax, and could care less where the state ranks in education spending because, after all, they have no children who are affected.
When you look at the numbers, Floridians on a whole are being quite unrealistic. Using 2005 data, which was before the Governor’s most recent property tax cut, Florida ranked 19th out of 50 states in our property tax burden (median tax of $1,495) Our state sales tax (6% at the state level) is basically comparable to the other 44 states that charge sales taxes. Compare Florida to New York, for example—a state where many of our retirees come from. New York ranks 7th in property tax burden (median tax of $3,076) and has a state sales tax of 4%. In addition, New York has an income tax that can be as high as 6.85%. When you stop to consider these facts, you start understanding why New Yorkers want to move to Florida when they retire. Snow isn’t always the incentive. They also want their taxes lowered—something that’s already built into the system. So, why would we risk the state’s future by continuing to lower them?
These are things Charlie Crist hasn’t paused to consider for one moment. His only concern is how he will become President. He’s already picked up the wife in the last few months. The only thing left to do is win the next election. Proposing another round of tax cuts, regardless of how disastrous they may prove for the state in the long run, is a certain way to move to the next level. At some point, Floridians are going to have to decide if they can truly have something for nothing. If we are unwilling to pay a state income tax while continuing to insist on lower and lower property taxes, we can expect our state’s infrastructure and educational system to continue to suffer. At some point, something has to give.
Perhaps the time has come to recognize that property taxes and sales taxes are the state’s primary sources of revenue and, in a growing state, they can’t really be cut if we intend to invest in our state’s future. And, if individuals who retire here with no vested interest in the long-term future of the state aren’t interested in funding a world class educational system…well, perhaps the time has come to discourage their relocations.