Romano: Anti-tax bills are ticking political bombs that could blow up our future

Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature on Jan. 9 at the Florida Capitol in the House chamber. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature on Jan. 9 at the Florida Capitol in the House chamber. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published February 27 2018

You may or may not have noticed, but money has gotten a little tight in Tallahassee.

The hurricanes of last summer were a kick in the budget. President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled infrastructure plan could shift a tremendous financial burden to the state level. Gov. Rick Scott’s school safety plan announced last week means finding another $500 million lying around.

And all of that is on top of the normal scrimping and saving for higher education, health care and a prison system that seems to be teetering on the edge of economic calamity.

So, of course, the proper response is more anti-tax legislation.

Look, I hate paying taxes as much as the next guy. And I have no doubt that too much of our tax money is wasted on bureaucracy and non-essential spending at the state and local levels.

Even as unexpected costs take huge chunks out of the state budget, the first response should always be to look for ways to tighten government spending.

So do we need to raise taxes to meet our bills today?

No.

Might we need to raise taxes at some point in the future?

Yes.

And that’s a problem with legislation that has already passed the House and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate this week.

Lawmakers want to make sure that future legislators cannot raise taxes with something as un-American as a majority vote in the House and Senate. They want to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to raise taxes in the future.

On their way out of office, term-limited leaders are essentially trying to stack the deck against the next generation of politicians.

Now if you lean toward the don’t-tread-on-me point of view, this probably sounds like a good idea. Keep the rascals at bay, and that sort of thing. But if you worry that politics could get in the way of the state providing funds for education, public safety, water supplies, environment and roadways, then this proposed change to the state Constitution sounds a little reckless.

Or, if you prefer, it just sounds like grandstanding.

Scott, who is considering a U.S. Senate run later this year, is in favor of it. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is considering a gubernatorial run, is in favor of it. In both cases, it would provide an effective sound bite, even if the ramifications are far more complex.

The version of the amendment passed last month by the House would require a two-thirds vote, which is an extremely high standard to reach, and it would include state fees as well as taxes. The Senate is now discussing a three-fifths vote, and proposes to remove fees from the equation.

Either way, it’s probably worth asking whether this is wise. Or even necessary.

It’s not as if Florida has overburdened taxpayers historically, which probably explains our poor reputation for education. When compared to other states, CNN Money says, Florida is 44th when it comes to the amount of taxes charged to residents. WalletHub says 45th. Forbes says 34th. The point being, no one thinks we’re hammering people with taxes.

So instead of building politicians’ resumes by changing the Constitution, perhaps we should focus more on how to better manage money and fix our budget problems before they get too large.

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