By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
So here we are, halfway through the constitutionally mandated 72-hour dead period between the time when the state budget is proposed and when it’s voted on.
Some people might call it a “cooling off” or “mulling over” period. I prefer to think of it as the Lobbyists’ Last Squeeze.
I’d love to see Florida Power and Light lobbyists be able to resurrect their renewable energy bill — the one Big Business-sponsored bill that kind of made sense. But that’s not going to happen. This budget’s a done deal. On Friday at 10:16 p.m., it’ll pass.
Besides, FPL couldn’t get that measure through this legislature despite ponying up $330,000.
Hey, the renewable energy bill might have actually created some jobs. And that just wouldn’t do.
Because this session was all about cutting jobs — at least public-sector jobs. This budget will eliminate a couple of thousand state jobs. And with an eight percent cut for education, we’ll soon see a wave of unemployed teachers as well. But we know none of them really counts. For Republicans, who have super-majorities in both chambers and hold the governorship, public-sector jobs are simply budget fat.
But when it comes to private sector jobs, there’s no business tax break or incentive they won’t consider. We’re seeing the grandson of trickle-down economics. And we all know how trickle-down turned out (see “son of trickle-down economic”: loss of jobs during Bush-era tax cuts).
The $69.7 billion budget crafted by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and CEO-in-chief Rick Scott — the Larry, Curly and Moe of state government — is nothing more than an exercise in self-interest.
Haridopolos is all about making a run for U.S. Senate. Scott is all about taking care of his business buddies, and Cannon is all about retaining power.
So we end up with a budget full of incongruities and hypocrisies.
In a year when public schools are being asked to teach students with $540 less per student, you’d think legislators would be too embarrassed to infuse the budget with pork.
But never underestimate the high-cholesterol tastes of legislators.
There’s $46-million for a University of South Florida polytechnic school in Lakeland.
Most college students will face stiff tuition increases in the coming years, but Pasco-Hernando Community College will receive $6.9 million as a result of being in future House Speaker Will Weatherford’s district. And the University of Central Florida’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government, in Cannon’s district, will get a $200,000 windfall.
The city of Pine Hills, home to Democratic Sen. Gary Siplin, somehow received $3.4 million. Siplin famously helped shoot down an ethics bill that would bring greater scrutiny to lawmakers’ financial investments and prevent them from voting on bills from which they might profit. The bill came up after Haridopolos was admonished for not disclosing a $400,000 home and relationships with certain clients.
“We need to be careful about these laws that we’re passing trying to attack public servants,” Siplin said at the time. “We need to stop doing this just because the public says we need to do this. You’re ruining people’s lives just because they want to serve the public.”
Siplin himself has twice faced — and beaten — ethics charges.
Who says Dems and Rs can’t work together?
But my favorite piece of pork is $5 million for a world-class International Regatta Sports Center in Sarasota, which is in the district of Rep. Doug Holder and Sen. Nancy Detert — the two people who shepherded through cuts in unemployment benefits.
Talk about “let them eat cake.”
The governor and legislators like to talk, talk, talk about investment, yet they’ve shortchanged Florida’s most important investment — the state’s children — up and down the budget. And of course, there’s the obscene slashing of public education. Although, no matter how tight the budget might be, they always seem to find money for private schools.
According to the Rs, deregulation is the nectar of job creation. So they deregulated the hot new industries of the 21st centuries: outdoor movie theaters and TV picture tube labelers.
Yeeesss. Now we’re on our way to those 700,000 jobs CEO-in-chief Rick Scott promised to create.
This budget expands gambling while cutting programs for compulsive gamblers. Programs that are already specifically funded by large fees on South Florida casinos and racetracks. And yet that fund was basically stolen by the legislature.
Once again, South Florida dollars flow into state coffers without South Florida getting its share back. Not even for hospitals.
Republicans say people should be able to think for themselves, fend for themselves, and that government should stay out of people’s lives.
And although Cannon wasn’t able to get his attempt to pack the State Supreme Court onto the ballot for the next election, he was able to waste $400,000 on a study about it. No problem. Plenty of money where that came from.
I could go on and on … Scott’s attack on the environment, and on unions, drug testing of welfare applicants … But I’m trying to keep down my breakfast.
And besides, there are some positives.
The hard-line immigration bill softened. We’re not Arizona. Yet.
Big forced hikes for Citizens Property Insurance failed.
Libraries got funding.
And we’re only a year and a half away from the 2012 elections.