Time to invest in Florida with revenue surplus

December 3, 2013 

Thanks to an improving state economy, Florida stands to enjoy an almost $850 million surplus in tax receipts next year -- a bonanza that follows this year's increase, the first since the recession and housing market bust forced $9 billion in spending cuts in the previous three years.

But Gov. Rick Scott still wants $500 million in tax reductions and another $100 million in state spending cuts instead of reinvesting in critical services that have been slashed -- education and transportation being two key sectors. Both are vital to Florida's future economic health, but the governor instead is promoting his own re-election agenda. Instead of tax breaks for special interests, Scott would serve Florida best by investing in his signature priorities -- business and jobs.

Higher education alone merits attention with the decline in state spending while college tuition has been increasing. The governor should listen to his own voice on his push for a greater emphasis on STEM disciplines -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

New and improved roads are an essential driver of the marketplace, too, with the delivery of goods and services dependent on an efficient transportation system.

As the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reported last week, there are many areas that deserve attention. The environment is vital to the state's tourism-dependent economy, and water projects to clean the polluted Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River estuary and Caloosahatchee River should finally be funded. This $220 million investment is one of the Legislature's priorities, a sound stake in the environment.

Public safety should also rise to the occasion of a revenue windfall with the restoration of some of the state trooper positions eliminated during the recession. The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is requesting the hiring of only 75 troopers, a little less than half the total cut.

Florida also must address the failings in the Department of Children and Family Services, as detailed in the Miami Herald's in-depth reporting this year. At least 20 children have died mostly from abuse and neglect since April, all under the eyes of the agency -- hard hit by budget cuts during tough times. It's implausible that the DCF budget was bloated and "wasteful" when the results of fewer resources can be measured in human lives. The state's child welfare system requires revamping.

On an issue particularly important to Manatee County, the state's agriculture agency seeks $6.5 million for research into fighting the bacterial disease known as citrus greening -- a plague without a cure that is destroying groves and damaging Florida's economy.

Scott's proposal to enact a partial rollback of the onerous increase in car and truck tag fees, adopted in 2009 by legislators scrambling to plug a massive budget shortfall, would right a wrong. All Floridians would benefit, not just special interests.

The governor enjoys taking credit for job creation with big public announcements of company expansions and new business openings -- all investments in Florida's future. It's time Scott did the same thing -- by investing in the state itself.

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