Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $500 million tax cut has everything to do with his re-election campaign and nothing to do with what's best for Floridians. After years of deep cuts in spending and services, the key to Florida's future is reinvesting in its people instead of pursuing undefined tax cuts that do little to create jobs or improve the quality of life. • After a difficult period, most families reassess their needs when financial conditions improve. They finally fix the leaky roof, replace the old car or buy a new refrigerator. But Scott sees no value in making improvements when times are better. He wants to reject most of the $845 million extra the state is projecting to have in 2014-15 after paying for program growth and placing $1 billion in reserves. On Tuesday, he embarked on a statewide tour to scout for ideas on which state taxes and fees should be cut to return $500 million of the surplus. What he should be doing is reassessing where that money might be better spent:
Education: Per-pupil spending for public schools has increased in the past two years but is still below 2006-07 levels. Traditional public schools haven't seen a single dollar of state construction or maintenance money in three years. State colleges have so little money that they are reducing adjunct faculty members' hours to avoid providing health insurance. University students are paying exponentially more in tuition, but precipitous drops in state funding mean fewer dollars overall are being spent to teach them. And Florida's voluntary prekindergarten program — one of the state's best investments at just $2,383 per child — hasn't seen an increase in funding in three years and is still spending nearly $300 less per child than in 2010.
Environment: The Florida Forever land conservation program — once the envy of the nation and a wise investment in a rapidly growing state — has been all but mothballed since the recession. It's time to bring it back rather than sell public land to raise money to buy other public land.
Affordable housing: At the moment when it might have been cheapest for the state's housing programs to help the private sector build or buy affordable housing for lower-income families, lawmakers redirected most of the money. Now housing prices are rising again, and the need for affordable housing is growing.
Transportation: Lawmakers repeatedly raided the state's transportation trust funds for other purposes in recent years. The state's backlog for road maintenance and construction is now estimated to be more than $40 billion, and the only new highway lanes the state expects to build would be financed by tolls.
Disabled children: Even as Florida faces a federal lawsuit for placing 200 disabled children in nursing homes when community-based care would be more appropriate, the state has 22,000 children on the waiting list for community-based care.
Floridians who have felt the pain of the past few years should not be fooled. Refusing to invest in education, the environment, transportation and housing will not create jobs or build a brighter future for Florida. It is a path to further stagnation.