Broward News

Florida Budget Talks: Like Watching a Game of Chicken Between Two Buses Full o' Kids

It's Friday, and I can't with a clear conscience inflict the kind of stress on you that will surely come with describing the current condition of the state budget -- at least not without the proper caveat. So if you have high blood pressure, or if there's a history of heart attacks in your family, please refrain from clicking to the jump. Should you ignore this warning, Juice assumes no legal responsibility for the emotional distress and medical complications the following message may cause.

Feeling lucky, are we? Take a deep breath... and here we go. Florida is entitled to $2 billion in federal stimulus funds that are absolutely essential not just to the closing of the budget gap but to save the public school system from catastrophe. In my metaphor, those stimulus funds are the friendly bus driver, happily motoring down a two-lane road with his cheerful tykes. But he sees another school bus coming from the other direction. The driver of that one is Eric Smith, the Florida Education Commissioner -- and he's on the wrong goddamned side of the road! For reasons that only Smith understands, he has not filed the waiver necessary to get the $2 billion. Smith says he's waiting for the federal government to give him information, and the federal government says he has it. Well, then Smith says he's waiting for the governor, and the governor says he's waiting for Smith. Can you see these two buses getting closer? Republicans, Democrats, and members of Congress are all screaming for Smith to just file the damn waiver. But he says he has "strategically waited" and that he'll get what he needs on May 1 -- the last freaking day of the legislative session, which is going to be complete pandomonium...

Let's just look away from that disaster, shall we? Besides, we have some good news. Remember how we feared that the House Republican plan to suppress the state vote might get lost in the news cycle? Instead, it became week-long media spanking, with even the New York Times taking a turn with the paddle. The political price was apparently too high, and this week the legislature backed away from the plan.

Feeling better? Then you must not know there's a grave danger that funding cuts will lead to the loss of hundreds of probation supervisors (who, um, watch after ex-cons), that the House would gut state universities by slashing $260 million, a move that the schools say is apocalyptic, that the former House Speaker has been criminally indicted for corruption and the current one may not be able to handle the pressure, and that the guy who has the most budget power in the Florida Senate has pronounced the whole thing a "crisis." Somehow, all of that anxiety was tucked neatly into this terrifying article in the St. Pete Times.

And there's no better time to negotiate than during a full-blown crisis -- at least if you're the Seminoles, who are offering this deal through their pal Charlie Crist. In his desperation to escape a budget collapse, the governor would give a gambling empire the kind of guarantees that one gives loan sharks, as my colleague has pointed out.

Are we screaming yet? In closing, I'd like to recommend that the state health officials distribute to all Floridians whatever prescription-strength anxiety medication inspired the governor to say yesterday, "I think at the end of the day it will all work out."

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Thomas Francis