Gov. Rick Scott is campaigning to make Florida the king of corporate welfare. He toured the state last week to promote his $1 billion tax cut that would primarily benefit big business. On top of that, the governor wants to set aside $250 million in corporate giveaways in case his out-of-state photo opportunities produce the jobs he brags about. This is trickle-down economics at its worst, and Florida cannot afford to keep giving away tax dollars when it desperately needs to invest in itself after years of neglect.
By all appearances, Florida is broken. It cannot afford to build new highway lanes unless it slaps tolls on them. It is looking to allow hunting in state parks, which have been told they have to pay for themselves. Public schools struggle to pay for basic maintenance, and the University of Florida president's highest hope is for a new boiler. The Justice Department is investigating the dangerous state prison system, and it also should investigate the shameful abuse and neglect exposed by the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in state mental hospitals. The overburdened courts scrimp by on less than 1 percent of the state budget, and children continue to die from neglect and abuse even after they are on the state's radar. Look in any direction, and the state's basic infrastructure is crumbling as Scott travels in his private jet to Kentucky and New York to bribe companies with taxpayer handouts to bring jobs here.
Need more evidence about the governor's misplaced priorities? Environmentalists are suing the state because it has failed to invest in preserving land as voters demanded by approving Amendment 1. Forestry firefighters travel to western states to fight blazes because they cannot make ends meet on their state salaries. The state crime lab is backed up for weeks because it can't pay its analysts enough to keep them. Aging computers are issuing thousands of drivers licenses with the wrong addresses. And Florida spent more than $400 million this year to help hospitals cover the cost of treating the uninsured because Scott and Republican lawmakers refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars that would have covered many of the same people. This failure to invest has real consequences for millions of Floridians, from public school students to crime victims to the uninsured.
Yet Scott pretends the state has so few needs and so much cash it should give money away. His $1 billion tax cut primarily would benefit corporations, with more than 75 percent of it tied to eliminating the corporate income tax. Most of the rest would come from a cut in the sales tax on commercial rents. Those expensive handouts overshadow the more reasonable proposal to make permanent the temporary ban of a tax on manufacturing equipment. The only crumbs for individuals would be the return of sales tax holidays for back-to-school deals and hurricane supplies.
That record public school spending Scott seeks? Nearly 90 percent of the increase would be paid by taxpayers through higher local property taxes tied to rising property values.
Even more indefensible is Scott's insistence on another $250 million for job incentives — triple what he sought this year and six times what the skeptical Legislature provided. The governor is strong-arming business leaders and mayors to pressure the reluctant Senate, and he offers some sensible reforms such as moving the money from a private escrow account into a state trust fund. But the state cannot afford to squirrel away that much money for future jobs that may never show up, and Enterprise Florida already is holding more than $140 million for jobs that do not yet exist. There has to be a better way to sell corporate executives on creating jobs here than sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars that could help Floridians now.
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The $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in job incentives are Scott's opening bid, and the Legislature will likely counter with lower numbers when its session begins in January. But don't be fooled. The governor's outrageous numbers will skew the debate, and Florida cannot afford this corporate giveaway. Government on the cheap is one thing. Government that starves itself to the point of systemic dysfunction and criminal neglect is another.