As Lawton Chiles would say, that dog won't hunt. Eviscerating the state endowment that bears his name to help offset Florida's budget deficit would dishonor the late governor's legacy. And it would harm the children and underprivileged who have been promised that the endowment would help pay for services they desperately need for years to come. Raiding the endowment would be a simplistic response to a difficult crisis, and Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature need to come up with more forward-looking solutions.
Chiles' widow and oldest son have had enough of such shortsighted thinking in Tallahassee. Rhea and Bud Chiles correctly note that lawmakers are more interested in avoiding tax increases than preserving services for children as the state faces a $2.3-billion deficit this year and an even deeper hole in 2009-10. Florida already fails to effectively deal with a lack of prenatal care, insurance coverage for children and prekindergarten programs — and that's with the interest earnings from the endowment dedicated to children and health care programs. No wonder Chiles' son vows to ask that his father's name be removed from the endowment if lawmakers borrow more money from it and reduce its effectiveness.
Draining the Chiles Endowment is not the solution to this budget crisis. Just months ago, its value stood at $2.1-billion. With Mrs. Chiles' consent, the Legislature this spring gave the governor the authority to borrow up to $354-million from the endowment to fill budget gaps. Investment losses since then have helped drop the endowment's value to $1.2-billion. Take a $1-billion from it now to fill half the budget shortfall, and there would be a Chiles endowment in name only.
Chiles, who died 10 years ago Friday with just weeks left in his second term, left a legacy of caring for Florida's children and investing in their well-being. Gov. Jeb Bush then set up the endowment with a portion of the tobacco settlement proceeds. If Crist and the Legislature insist on raiding the endowment, they would be establishing an altogether different legacy for themselves.
As the late governor would have said, they would be eating the seed corn.