State lawmakers face a tough legislative session
THE ISSUE: Legislature convenes.
The Florida Legislature again faces its annual 60 days of dealmaking. Somehow, lawmakers must balance a new state budget and provide a modicum of state government services.
It’s a pretty tall order. The state is short of money, with lawmakers looking at a budget gap of more than $3 billion in the proposed budget that takes effect July 1. Complicating matters is that 2010 is an election year, and with so many lawmakers either seeking higher office or re-election, Floridians will be lucky to see any major, bold initiatives coming out of this session.
Unfortunately, Florida’s pressing problems demand lawmakers take decisive action now.
Lawmakers should move beyond ideological talking points and focus on the best ideas to balance cost savings and spending cuts with targeted initiatives to raise revenue. As most lawmakers now know, and the public is beginning to understand, there aren’t any simple solutions to the complicated process of running the nation’s fourth largest state.
For example, legislative efforts to spur economic growth will cost taxpayers money. Still, depending on how tax breaks and spending initiatives are targeted, the resulting new revenue could materialize without significant backlash. Gambling, for example, is a potential money maker for the state, and in parts of South Florida, paramutuels offer gambling activities but labor under a 50 percent tax rate on slots receipts. A reduction is in order.
Medicaid is another program in which lawmakers need to use the best established practices to minimize cuts and provide quality service. Turning it over to HMOs may save money, but the idea that private insurers can run the health-care program for the poor, elderly and disabled any more efficiently and effectively isn’t a given.
This should also be the year lawmakers retrieve a bit of their collective spines. Now is not the time to backpedal on fee increases on driver’s licenses and tag renewals.
Despite the budgetary shortfalls facing Tallahassee, lawmakers will seek ways to save taxpayers money. While that’s important, the Legislature shouldn’t forget that their constituents want them to address and solve problems, too.
Bold steps needed to resolve enduring problems.
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel