Attorney General Bill McCollum claims his opponent in the Republican primary for governor, health care executive Rick Scott, has plagiarized parts of his economic plan. But both men are rehashing the same tired and outdated plans for reviving Florida's economy. Their promise to cut corporate income taxes and property taxes — and still invest more in education to spur economic development — is deceptive pandering that even the Republican-led Legislature hasn't stooped to in recent years because it knew it couldn't deliver. Neither can McCollum or Scott.
The most striking difference between the two plans is presentation. McCollum's is a sober white paper; Scott's is a flashy colored brochure. But the message behind both is the same: reduce regulation, limit government spending, cut taxes and improve economic development efforts. Scott, former CEO of Columbia/HCA, claims his plan would create 700,000 jobs in seven years, but he offers little more than wishful thinking.
Both candidates say they want to cut the state's corporate income tax (Scott actually proposes doing away with it in seven years) and force deeper cuts in property taxes. Both claim they would find enough savings elsewhere in the budget to hold schools harmless and still invest more in universities and community colleges. This is warmed-over supply side economics that is out of touch with economic reality.
Neither of the self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives are honest about the real elephant in the room: Next year the state is expected to face at least a $6 billion shortfall in funding for schools, prisons and other programs in part because the federal stimulus funds will dry up. Cut taxes, as McCollum and Scott pledge, and that gap will only grow wider.
Scott also contends he would balance the budget without using any one-time monies, such as more federal stimulus if it is available or state savings. He is right in theory: It is not smart to use one-time money on recurring expenses. But the recession required the federal government to inject cash into the economy to prevent a total collapse, and the only way the Legislature has avoided raising more revenue is by relying on the stimulus and raiding state trust accounts. It is fantasy to believe Florida can cut taxes, reject one-time money and hum along — and it reveals Scott's shallow understanding of the state's revenue picture.
Responsible politicians recognize the only way this state will ever grow a stronger economy is by improving the quality of its education system to support diverse industry. Both Scott and McCollum claim that's their goal. But their actions speak louder than their words. They could show leadership by offering serious plans to reform the state's tax structure to make it fairer and more stable — such as promoting the collection of sales tax on Internet purchases, closing tax breaks or reforming the state's property tax system. Instead, they default to the partisan line about less taxes and smaller government leading to even better services in a time of economic hardship. It does not add up, and voters should not buy it.