As Florida’s legislative session turns the corner to Sine Die, I imagine both chambers are looking at the gaping $6.1 billion budget hole, and wondering how in the world they arrive at a balanced budget.
Here’s a selection of what came out of Tallahassee today.
The Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that the Senate Finance and Tax Committee has all but given up on closing some sales tax loopholes on Super Bowl Tickets, ostrich feed, and probably bottled water, among other things, in favor of an $800 million tobacco surcharge (on top of the new federal taxes what went into effect Wednesday) and a restructuring of the corporate tax structure that dates back to the 1970’s. I haven’t seen the details on the corporate tax yet,so I can’t comment, but I’m sure there are lobbyists for the business community pouring over it at the moment, so we’ll see. Florida has traditionally (at least recently) been kind to business, and a Republican legislature is unlikely to impose sweeping new taxes or tax increases on business in the depth of a recession. Or so it would seem.
Also in the Tallahassee Democrat today is the report of a proposal in the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee for a $1.25-per-ton “Landfill Disposal Charge” to be assessed against landfill owners … which one legislator likened to taxing the legislature for coming up with a budget. The logic being municipal governments are required by their charters to dispose of trash, and landfilling is still far and away the most economical way to do that. Basically it’s charging a fee (or a tax, it becomes semantics at some point) to local governments for something they’re required to do. That money has to come from somewhere, and local governments can’t print it.
Of course, both of these proposals are just coming out of committee, and there is plenty of vigorous debate to be had in the full house and senate, and for companion bills, and if it gets that far, from any reconciliation that would have to be done in conference.
Perhaps a better idea, or at least one more appealing to those of us who have been downsized, or had pay reduced, or had involuntary unpaid furloughs, is a proposal in the Senate Ways and Means Committee to cut the salaries of the highest-paid state employees:
Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, said his committee will produce a bill that would impose a 1 percent pay cut for everyone making more than $100,000. Alexander said it wouldn’t apply if the reduction would take an employee’s salary below $100,000 — for instance, if an employee made $100,700 a year, the cut would only be $700.
Still, symbolically that’s something. There would be a larger 6 percent reduction in pay for the legislators themselves. A plan floating around the house but “not settled policy” would cut state employees as much as 5 percent. Today, The Florida Capital News reports that as many as 2000 state jobs could be cut under a new Senate plan. 1,200 of them are currently vacant, but that’s 800 people out of work.
It’s a major problem, and one that doesn’t seem to have any end in sight. David Letterman is fond of saying he “wouldn’t give (fill in the blank’s) problems TO A MONKEY ON A ROCK!!!” I’m not sure what that means, but it seems to fit with what’s going on in Tallahassee.
State Senator Jim King, who represents the district in which I live, said in response to an inquiry about his interest in the job of University Chancellor that he’d have no problems leaving the Senate with a year left in his term because (and I’m paraphrasing) it’s as bad in Tallahassee as he’s ever seen it.
And he’s been there a long time.
So, with 30 days left in the legislative session, our elected state officials seem to at least be working on the things that matter. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had the steady diet of legislative news this session, or if there’s just been less … but I don’t notice the more frivolous bills being debated that we’ve seen in previous years. A $6.1 billion budget gap seems to have gotten their attention. I just hope when the dust settles and the smoke clears that something substantive and real has been done … even if I don’t necessarily agree.