The readers’ forum

Reinvesting Florida’s budget surplus

 

For families still struggling, an economic recovery might not mean much. For our state government, though, it means an $850 million projected budget surplus this year. As a result my colleagues and I in the Florida Legislature are debating how best to give that back to the people. Given the recent recklessness we’ve seen in Washington over the federal budget, this is sure to be welcome news for Floridians.

One good idea which most of us support is to roll back increases in license and registration fees approved in 2009. Other ideas are more controversial. Many involve tax reductions that benefit particular industries or interest groups. Whatever we ultimately decide, it is important that we take into account one point which has so far been left out of this discussion: That fact is that Floridians also pay taxes locally.

Tallahassee tax-cuts are not really tax cuts if they simply shift funding duties to the local level. When state support dwindles, we feel the hit locally. Roadway tolls go up, burdens on our property taxes increase and our counties max-out their allowable local option sales taxes.

Over the years billions of dollars in state trust funds intended for things like transportation and housing have been depleted and diverted into general revenue. “Sweeping” these monies into the state’s discretionary budget has left critical needs unmet. The Public Education Capital Outlay fund is another example. It helps pay for construction and maintenance at our schools, colleges and universities, yet hasn’t kept pace with growth.

Consider how our community has responded. Last year Miami-Dade voters approved $1.2 billion in bonds to upgrade our public schools. We are about to vote on $830 million in upgrades to Jackson Health System. Both rely on increased property taxes. Much-needed improvements to Miami Dade College are next. If we are able to approve it in Tallahassee this year, we will soon see on the ballot a proposed increase in our local option sales tax to fund needs at MDC.

We will also see new toll rates locally. Approved by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, they’re meant to manage ever-increasing congestion on existing state roads.

Election season is around the corner. We would be wise to avoid shortsighted measures that look good in reelection campaign material. Instead, we ought to take a hard look at how we are paying for critical needs in the long run. Using part of our state’s additional revenue to reinvest in our schools and infrastructure is a form of tax relief. After all, we will pay eventually, one way or the other.

Jose Javier Rodriguez, state representative, District 112, Miami

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