Schoolkids, State Workers: You're All Under the Bus for Tax-Shy Legislature

Our Florida legislators have some budget-cutting to do, but they also need to improve the state's education system, which is fast becoming a national embarrassment. This will take some creativity. Republicans, as the majority party, you're up.

Adam Hasner, Republican from Delray Beach, called a news conference yesterday to herald his party's idea: Let's ask more of our students and teachers by raising graduation standards.

Hasner explained that transforming Florida's economy will require a competitive work force, and a key ingredient in that competitive work force is a "high-quality education."

That sounds expensive. Let's ask the Republican sponsor of the bill how a Legislature that's in budget-cutting mode can find money for this.

Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said no additional costs are anticipated because these subjects are already offered.

You might want to check with schools about that. Now let's see what the Democrats have up their sleeve.

Another Miami legislator -- this time a Democrat, Dwight Bullard -- is sponsoring a bill that would make enhancements in the state education, but he actually backs that up with an idea for funding: add a penny to the sales tax.

Which is more serious about improving education? And which would rather campaign on a tax-cutting ticket?

Granted, with consumer spending already down, it's a rotten time to raise taxes. But fortunately, there are targeted taxes that would seem to have little effect on the state economy: Why not raise taxes on cigarettes by one buck per pack?

The St. Pete Times found a Republican legislator in Bradenton, Sen. Mike Bennett, who's willing to go out on that limb, but he's worried it will break.

He is supporting the $1 a pack increase on tobacco products to offset the cost of treating sick smokers on Medicaid, but he realizes it could make him vulnerable if he were to run again in a Republican primary.

"I can see the flier: 'He voted to raise your taxes $700 million,' " Bennett said. "They don't say cigarette tax. They don't say it's going to health care. So, until you find yourself in a desperate situation, people are not going to have that political courage. For me, it's the right thing to do."

The same article has Republicans talking about "streamlining" state government, a term that sounds good but is ruthless in action. Often, that means eliminating state jobs, making bureaucrats overworked and ineffective.

So if the Republican Legislature is too scared to go for a tobacco tax, or any other tax, for that matter, it's got to find extra money somewhere. And guess what, state workers? They're looking at you.

State employees, who have not had a general pay raise in three years, could get hit with a 5-percent pay cut as Florida deals with an unprecedented fiscal crisis, a major Senate money manager said Monday.

Nothing is final and "everything is on the table," Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, said.

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