You may remember the JMI as providing us a great speaker at our Sept. rally in 2009 at Liza Jackson. We have maintained contact with them and they have provided us their legislative priorities for 2010 in Florida. If you are not familiar with JMI, they are sort of like the Heritage Foundation at the State of Florida level.
Public Policies to Improve Florida’s Economy
While Advancing Individual Liberty and Personal Responsibility
Tax and Budget Policy
When economic growth slows and government revenues drop while demands for government “services” rise, some public officials and media pundits will call for a tax hikes to make up for what they’ll term a “shortfall” in revenue. Yet such budget gaps are not so much “shortfalls” as they are evidence of the excessive rate of growth in government spending when the economy was enjoying the windfall of tax revenue generated by an unsustainable boom in real estate. Therefore, instead of using the current fiscal problems as an excuse to raise taxes, they should be viewed as an opportunity to reorder the state’s priorities. California and the other states that failed to do so and instead tried to tax away their budget gap have instead made it worse by seriously damaging their business climate.
Fortunately, Florida’s state government has generally avoided the massive tax hikes that have plagued other states. Indeed, over the past four years, there has been a 10 percent decrease in state spending as the Legislature determined that the state government must live within its means, just as Florida’s families must do. Unfortunately, many of Florida’s cities, counties, and school districts have not shown the same fiscal restraint. Therefore, the 2010 Legislature should explore ways to impose fiscal discipline upon the state’s jurisdictional subdivisions whose excessive spending has damaged the state’s economy. If doing so requires amending the state Constitution, voters should be given that opportunity in 2010.
In education the goal must be to preserve recent impressive gains in pupil performance while also protecting the policies and expanding the programs that contributed to those gains. Florida’s combination of accountability and parental choice has won national attention and praise, but there remains room for improvement. In particular, a further expansion of on-line educational opportunities – “virtual schooling” – could create additional competition in the marketplace and provide public and private alternatives for students and parents. Further expansion of the corporate income tax credit scholarship program not only could improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students from low-income families, but it could also save the state money. Meanwhile, Florida should not wait any longer to implement a program in civics education for high school students and teachers in preparation for adding a social studies component to the FCAT.
By the time the 2010 Legislature convenes its regular session in March, the healthcare debate in Washington may have reached some conclusion with fiscal consequences for Florida. In particular, the state needs to be prepared to defend and possibly to expand its groundbreaking Medicaid reforms, which a recent University of Florida study indicates has reined in some of the unsustainable growth in the costs of the Medicaid program.
Energy and the Environment
A shift in public opinion in Florida on the issue of drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico has opened the door for comfortable consideration of legislation allowing the process for granting oil-drilling leases in state waters to move forward. To expedite the process and the likelihood of reaping economic benefits for the state, legislation on this topic would be appropriately considered in any special session prior to the 2010 regular session.
In addition, during the 2010 regular session, the Legislature may also need to act to insure that the Florida Public Service Commission and the Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change do not impose costly “renewable energy” mandates that could damage Florida’s economy by imposing unrealistic goals requiring public utilities to generate power from sources that are neither economically affordable nor technologically feasible at present.
The so-called “Hometown Democracy Amendment” is a threat to property rights. If it passes, it would short-circuit due process and place the rights of property owners at the mercy of the electorate. This could stifle economic development and make election-day ballots absurdly lengthy, especially in jurisdictions where there are scores of comprehensive land-use plan amendments in each election cycle. Although the Legislature does not have a formal role in dealing with constitutional amendments that reach the ballot via the initiative petition process, as this one did, lawmakers do have the authority to review the state’s statutes governing growth management in general and the comprehensive plan process in particular. They should use that authority to minimize the damage should this amendment pass.
In addition, in the area of property rights, the most egregious encroachments have occurred in the name of environmental protection. Although the Bert Harris Act curbed some of the worst abuses – e.g. land-use restrictions that amounted to an uncompensated taking rendering a property essentially valueless to the owner – the Legislature may need to revisit this issue in light of changes in federal policies, with special attention to the treatment of properties that the federal government classifies as “wetlands.” With the August 2009 death of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Wade Hopping, a tireless defender of property rights, there would be no more fitting memorial than legislation bearing his name in defense of those rights for which he fought.
Basic to the property rights of individuals, businesses, and other organizations is the ability to decide how to bestow the fruits of their labors. In today’s political environment, proponents of big government solutions are becoming more successful, using the current economic crisis to make their case for more government intervention in the economy. The government’s involvement in the private sector is now also turning its attention to charitable foundations. Charitable organizations provide social services in lieu of (and in most cases better than) government services; if those charities are “picked” by the government, voluntary associations in our society will lose credibility and integrity, and our society will ultimately lose the necessary benefits they provide.
Because JMI is a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the foundational principles of limited government, a free-market economy, and personal responsibility, this issue is central to our very existence and purpose. It is also essential to the American way of life. This is a very critical issue in a state with such a large number of senior citizens and retirees who make donations to many charitable causes and sit on boards of foundations.
The state government made a start toward greater fiscal transparency in 2009, progress for which Governor Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink deserve credit. Florida taxpayers have yet to see much progress toward fiscal transparency where it is arguably needed the most: at the city, county, and school district level, where waste and reckless spending contributed the most to the economic downturn and to public outrage over government spending. Therefore, the next step must be for the Legislature to mandate complete fiscal transparency for local jurisdiction, perhaps phasing it in using stages beginning with jurisdictions that have the largest populations.
The 2010 Legislature needs to continue the recent progress toward restoring the property insurance market to actuarially sound rates, increasing competition in the marketplace, and encouraging the state to make Citizens the insurer of last resort, rather than the insurer of first resort, which it has become. In particular, lawmakers should see if an accord can be reached to allow enactment into law of the consumer choice legislation that was unfortunately vetoed in 2009.
The James Madison Institute (JMI) is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Tallahassee. It was incorporated in 1987 to promote free-market policies that advance the nation’s founding principles of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility. JMI conducts research for the purpose of educating and informing its statewide membership and the general public about the major issue facing the state. JMI does not lobby for or against legislation, nor does it endorse or support candidates for elected office. Further information is available at: http://www.jamesmadison.org.