April 4, 2008

Some of us saw this coming

When the national media talk about Florida's January election, it's usually in reference to the Democratic Party representatives losing their seats at the convention.

What often goes unmentioned is the misguided action by some of my fellow Floridians to cut our property taxes. The amendment passed easily, because a lot of people, apparently, are more concerned about their own short-term finances than the state's long-term solvency.

Cut property taxes, as my benighted neighbors chose to, and you cut funding to a whopping number of municipal services, including schools.

Last week, Superintendent Ronald Blocker of Orange County Public Schools sent out a recorded phone message to parents that must have been as painful for him to say as it was for us to hear. OCPS must cut $17 million from the 2008-2009 budget.

Now, the state Legislature must figure out how to pay for stuff. The latest suggestion? Increasing the sales tax.

Goodness gracious. Did you not see that coming? Police and fire departments, road crews, and schools do not pay for themselves. Those of us clever enough to have opposed Amendment 1 know that.

Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's,"* but it seems to me that a great many people are more interested in finagling their way out of rendering anything. They are, to apply the British idiom, penny wise and pound foolish.

My fellow Floridians, we must pay for our schools and roads and public safety professionals somehow. A property tax was an entirely reasonable way of doing this. Now we are faced with a sales tax increase, which will, instead of putting most of the burden on those of us fortunate enough to own real estate, put a disproportionate burden on the poorest of us: our service-sector wage-earning renters.

Of course, any new taxes have to go on the ballot in November, and I don't suspect the penny-pinchers to have come to their senses by then, if ever.

The squeeze is on the local municipalities, and there's no telling how they're going to manage, especially as we appear to be in a recession.

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis summed it up very well. He's quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying "This state is on the verge of being in the toilet with the economy. This act could be the final flush to make that happen."


* Of course, people usually leave off the second clause of that famous quote from the Lord, which in its entirety reads: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

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