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The make-believe budget

Gov. Bob Martinez proposes to win re-election by cutting the pay of Florida's public school teachers and state employees. That's just so he can say he didn't raise taxes this year. He is raising them, of course, by more than a half-billion dollars in fees, tuition and even an honest-to-goodness cigarette tax increase not disguised as anything else. But he isn't raising nearly enough money to meet the crisis whose existence he alone denies. A pay cut is what results from a pay raise that is less than anticipated inflation. The Martinez budget for fiscal 1991 assumes inflation at 4.3 percent. It provides only 3 percent more for teachers; what actually filters down to the counties would, in many cases, be less. It is thought to be the smallest teacher pay raise ever proposed by a Florida governor. While state employees would get the same 3 percent, they would have to wait until midyear to begin collecting it.

This is wickedly unfair and counterproductive, and it is not only the Democrats who have a reason to say so. The Republican Party's prospective future governors _ people such as Secretary of State Jim Smith, Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher and state Sen. Curt Kiser of Palm Harbor _ should be asking themselves how well they would be able to run the state, or whether they would even want to try, after Martinez wrecks it by demoralizing its employees and bankrupting its treasury. Teachers, prison guards and social workers are weary of taking the blame for society's collective failures, and to tell them to keep on taking it for even less disposable income is to invite them to take a walk. Would Martinez propose such a budget if public employees had the right to strike?

More responsible Republicans might ask Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman what it's like to run a city that has to spend much of its money paying back what a former mayor borrowed. Bob Martinez borrowed his way to the governor's mansion in Tallahassee, and he's trying to borrow his way to a second term. Florida's highways are disgracefully, dangerously overcrowded, yet Martinez once again refuses to raise gasoline taxes. He asks instead for a wasteful $800-million bonding program that the Legislature turned down before.

The only spark of courage _ maybe _ is Martinez's call for a 19-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase, which would raise $259-million for indigent medical care and make Florida's tax three cents higher than any other state's. This was, of course, the safest of new taxes for a no-new-tax governor to propose. There is nobody against it but the tobacco lobbyists. The Freudian slip of one such lobbyist who promised "a fight to the death" should remind the Legislature of the other good reason to raise cigarette taxes.

The 19 cents is a story in itself. It is widely reported in Tallahassee and ineffectively denied by the governor's office that the budget as printed proposed only 12 cents. The rest of the indigent care money, some $140-million, was pegged to a 1 percent tax on hospital revenue. When the for-profit hospitals got wind of it, so the story goes, they threatened to spend millions of dollars on anti-Martinez political commercials, and the governor buckled. The offending page was ripped from each copy of the budget and replaced with the insert. To replace the revenue, the cigarette tax increase was bucked up to 19 cents. If that's true, so much for courage.

But if the Legislature doesn't have what it takes to get all 19 cents past the tobacco lobby, then the Martinez budget is even more unrealistic. More's the pity that Martinez couldn't bring himself to support the 12 cents last year, when his once-and-future campaign manager Mac Stipanovich was among the lobbyists being paid to oppose it.

It is also unrealistic to pass off as adequate a working capital (or "rainy day" fund) of only $150-million. That's barely half of 1 percent of a $26.2-billion budget.

There are substantial constitutional questions about Martinez's proposal to charge a $195 additional fee on all out-of-state cars being registered in Florida for the first time. Why shouldn't the same be charged to a Florida family that buys a second or third car for its newly licensed teen-ager? If it's an impact fee, it should be charged both ways. Of course, the out-of-staters who would pay it are not yet on hand to vote against the governor who proposes it.

Once again the question recurs: Florida's gasoline tax is one of the nation's lowest. Its highway system is one of the worst. Why not raise the gasoline tax and give tourists, as well as new residents, an opportunity to help pay for the overdue improvements?

Fiscal 1991 would also mark Florida's first billion-dollar prison budget, three times more than the prison budget before Martinez. Even then, the prisons will remain so overcrowded that dangerous offenders will be set free long before their terms run out. This would not be happening if Florida were not sending so many non-violent offenders to prison, or if Florida had a governor with the wisdom and courage to do something about that.

In Tallahassee, the fiscal document Martinez presented Thursday is being called "the make-believe budget." It could also be called the first white paper of his campaign. Responsible legislators will do their own thing.

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