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McKay's common sense

The Senate president says Florida can't afford more tax cuts in a lean budget year until education and social services get the funding they need.

The Democrats in Tallahassee had begun to believe that they had a monopoly on common sense. The good news is that they don't.

Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, claimed a share for himself and the Senate Wednesday when he put the brakes on nearly $370-million in tax cuts sought by Gov. Jeb Bush and his Republican allies in the House. McKay directed that the money be saved for education and social services, which face hard hits because of an extraordinary, $950-million increase in state Medicaid responsibilities.

Putting his priorities where most Floridians wish every politician did, McKay said health and education are more important than marginal tax cuts for stockholders, bar customers or clothing shoppers who might take advantage of another "tax holiday" in August.

"We are not abandoning these tax cuts," he said. "The responsible course of action right now is to address these cuts next year once the budget is in better condition and additional funds become available."

(Though McKay didn't specify it, the embargo should apply as well to the legislation that would award corporate tax credits for contributions to private-school scholarship plans. Whatever its merits, which are few, Florida can't presently afford this bill either.)

Anyone who was genuinely surprised by McKay's opposition to the big tax breaks couldn't have been listening. McKay and Senate budget writers had been warning for weeks that, whatever others might do, they wouldn't place tax cuts ahead of more important things. Meanwhile, the practical consequences of foolish consistency on tax cuts were laid out, one hurtful cut after another, by the Senate's budget subcommittees. The public got the message even if the Republicans in the House claimed not to.

Florida's Capitol, like most such places nowadays, is so steeped in cynicism that some legislators, lobbyists and journalists couldn't accept McKay's announcement at face value. Some shrugged it off as a bargaining ploy. Others wondered whether it meant he simply didn't have the votes to pass big tax cuts right now.

More likely, they misjudge the man. If he has any ulterior motive, it is to build some pressure for the comprehensive tax reform that McKay and Jim Horne, the appropriations chair, hope to pull off next year.

Meanwhile, Bush and the House Republicans say they aren't giving up on tax cuts now no matter what, or how good, McKay's reasons are. Public opinion will tell soon enough who gets the better of that fight.