The day Florida students and parents travelled to Tallahassee to rally against proposed cuts to education, Charlie Crist fled town to attend a town hall meeting in Mayport where questions had to be submitted online and pre-approved by the Governor’s staff. The day Florida’s unemployment rate approached double digits, the Governor went on vacation. His eternal optimism was one of his selling points when he ran for office, but his refusal to deal with reality is quickly becoming his Achilles heel. His disengagement is starting to wear on lawmakers, something even the Governor has started to notice. Perhaps realizing that his future political ambitions are dependent on an occasional display of leadership, the Governor has promised to pay more attention.
Gov. Charlie Crist’s policy of disengagement is testing the limits of lawmakers’ patience and raising questions about his leadership.
As the legislative session nears the midway point, Crist keeps at a safe distance from the politically turbulent talk of painful budget cuts and higher taxes swirling about him.
For instance, on Friday, as the state announced that Florida’s unemployment rate spiked to 9.4 percent, the highest since Gerald Ford was president, Crist took the day off. The week before, he took two days off.
Crist promised to become more engaged: “We’ll start to draw a bead on it, as hunters would say,” he said.
The session began four weeks ago with lawmakers facing a budget crisis that has steadily gotten worse. Even with an influx of cash from the federal government, a sharp drop in tax receipts has left the Legislature with a $3 billion hole to fill. The state Constitution requires a balanced budget.
But Crist’s budget recommendations, proposed at the start of the session, have been set aside as irrelevant because they were based on an outdated and overly optimistic revenue estimate from last November.
“We threw that away,” Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey said at a recent budget hearing. A strong Crist ally, he said later that lawmakers rarely pay much attention to a governor’s budget proposal.
Since that time, Crist has repeatedly pledged to “hold education harmless” from more budget cuts, and vows to protect “the most vulnerable among us,” especially the poor, from further pain.
But that talk clashes with the reality setting in at the state Department of Children and Families, where current budget proposals mean 5,000 more adults would not receive mental health services and 1,200 adults and 1,000 children would have no access to substance abuse help next year.
The store can be found here.