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Legislators Pay Lip Service to Dreaded Compromise

Compromise is what distinguishes the effective, conscientious governments from the dysfunctional ones, and the lack of it has been a drag on the Florida Legislature for some time. One would think that this year's gaping, $6 billion budget hole would make compromisers out of the stubbornest souls.

Instead, legislators are playing politics. Republicans, chiefly. The slightly more pragmatic of the bunch, who sit in the Florida Senate, have grudgingly agreed to the Democrats' proposal to hike the sales tax (by a penny) to help pay for state education -- but only on the most unreasonable terms: a ballot measure that must survive a gauntlet before it gets passed into law. A St. Pete Times story points out:

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the measure requires three-fifths support in both chambers to be put on the next general election ballot, which is 2010.

But to get it to a vote this fall, in a special election, it would need 75 percent support in both chambers, or 30 votes in the Senate and 90 in the House.
And it certainly doesn't sound like House Republicans are going to pitch in.

Delray Beach Rep. Adam Hasner, the House majority leader, told the paper that his side won't budge on a tax increase.

And even if Hasner and his fellow Republicans come around to the idea, the measure would still need a 60 percent yes vote from the Florida electorate to pass into law in 2010.

The Dems have made their own show of compromise by letting Republicans attach to the measure language scrapping a plan to limit class sizes in Florida schools. But to achieve small classes would have taken more teachers, an expense that wasn't feasible in the first place.

By making this a ballot measure, the Republicans can claim they didn't raise taxes (the voters did) while Democrats can say they didn't abandon their plan to limit class sizes (the voters did).

It's a political copout. Rather than make tough decisions to navigate through a crisis, legislators have thrown the ball at the voters. And by the time the 2010 general election rolls around, it may be too late anyway.

Oh, and one more thing. Our cash-strapped state is on the verge of saying "No thanks" to almost $1 billion in federal stimulus money. The sticking point again: House Republicans.

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Thomas Francis

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