Gov. Charlie Crist brought some welcome sanity Tuesday to a half-baked idea by some Florida lawmakers who suggest one way to shore up the state's budget is to borrow money from the Florida Prepaid College Plans. "I don't think that's a great idea," Crist said, adding that the idea should be "pretty much" dead in its tracks.
He's right. Lawmakers should leave the prepaid college money alone. It's not theirs to spend, and it would be the equivalent of a private company raiding its employees' pension fund.
The money belongs to parents who have planned for their children's future by dutifully paying college costs years in advance. They have bought contracts with Florida Prepaid to lock in tomorrow's education at today's prices. Those parents are making tough choices and sacrifices now to ensure a better future for their children. They are succeeding exactly where the Legislature is failing.
Rather than raising new revenue to deal with the state's budget shortfall or curtailing costs by cutting more state programs, the Legislature has been cleaning out one savings account and trust fund after another to help make up budget deficits. Under this new proposal, the Legislature would borrow from responsible parents while also refusing to rein in the cost of one of the state's fastest growing entitlement programs, the too-generous Bright Futures scholarship program.
It's bad enough for the Legislature's vision to be the equivalent of searching between the couch cushions for loose change. But it's just plain wrong to start scavenging in other people's sofas, too.
Backers of the idea contend the Legislature would ultimately pay the money back, so parents are held harmless. That would be the same Legislature that sold Floridians on the lottery 20 years ago as a way to enhance education funding, not simply replace other money. Look what happened.
Stanley Tate, who founded the Prepaid program, doesn't like what he's smelling. "It's not the state's money," he said. "It's specified for prepaid tuition. If they use it for another purpose, woe be to the elected authorities."
Floridians would not quietly accept an attempt by legislators who won't plan for the future to borrow college tuition money from families who are looking ahead.