Every year in every government on planet earth a solemn ritual is carried out known as creating the budget. Florida is no exception.
It is true budget talk makes most people’s eyes glaze over, but it is also true that the budget is the heart of government. It is the place where all that campaign rhetoric gets turned into reality, and where the average citizen gets bribed with their own tax money.
When the legislature turns to the budget this year, they should recognize three adverse trends in it right now; it is unsustainable, uncompetitive, and unjust.
Take a look at the size of it. Last fiscal year’s budget was $74 billion dollars. That is about $3900 for every man, woman and child in the state. Contrary to all the “conservative” fiscal talk from representatives in the news, the Florida budget actually grew 6% last year. If the same thing happened this year, the individual cost will be about $4100 per person per year, or $16,400 for a family of four. If it continues for 5 years it will be $4520 per person, or $18,800 for a family of four. If it weren’t for outside help the budget would be unsustainable right now.
A lot of that outside help comes from the Federal government. About one third of the 2013-14 budget ($24 Billion) came from the Feds, and most of that went to assist with paying for Medicaid. For the last five years or so the share of the total budget paid by the Feds is clearly in an uptrend, and currently hovers around 32%. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida as a whole can “boast” that it receives more overall funds from federal sources (pensions, projects, grants and the like) than any other state, a whopping $578 Billion in 2011 alone. Should Floridians ever decide to buck the welfare state, or assert state rights, it will be tough when one third of the yearly budget and apparently a lot of other personal income depends on the Federal government. What will Florida do the next time something unconstitutional happens?
The budget shows how Florida is its own worst enemy in other ways too. Government has come to believe it actually should be a “partner” with industry, and that it has the right to determine who the economic winners and losers are. At least $106 million of the last budget was dedicated to economic development partners, ostensibly to provide funding for projects that will increase employment and encourage business to come to Florida. What is unseen and unheard are all those businesses (usually small ones) that are hurt by special government favors, or how the free market gets skewed in expensive directions by government that uses one businesses tax dollars against another business that competes with it. Incredible as it sounds, local governments have the legal authority to give tax breaks, in secret, to one business over another. In the end, what happens with this goodfella kind of regime is that if you are close to the government you do OK. But if you aren’t, well, you just don’t matter.
It gets worse. Education in Florida is a state monopoly, funded by the budget. Like it or not, the legacy of monopolies always has been greater costs and less quality. State run Citizens Insurance, intended as an insurer of last resort, is now the largest insurer in the state. The medical industry also enjoys monopolistic protections such as certificate of need laws that prevent the construction of hospitals because other established hospitals think there would be too much competition. Is it any wonder Medicaid costs are the fastest growing part of the budget?
Until legislators stop the fiscal habit of favoring one citizen over another, this situation will only continue.
The Florida Legislature needs to stop playing favorites, free up the free market, and use the savings to cut taxes across the board. Individual rights would be better protected, and just watch how the economy takes off.
But that’s not part of the ritual.
Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party, and an At-Large Rep for the Libertarian Party of Florida