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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011 6 years ago

Blind to our future

Governing is full of protecting intangibles - elements on a budget that can't be fiscally qualified for their worth.

Take a look in a dictionary and you’ll see the definition of shortsightedness is lack of planning for the future. In Tallahassee, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott recently decided that education and state parks were unnecessary for the future, angering even the largely Republican Legislature.

He proposed cutting $3.3 billion from education funding, and closing 53 state parks.

Those announcements shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Scott touted himself as a savvy businessman, the type who cuts a business’ overhead to keep it profitable.

He said he’d run Florida like a business, and vowed to cut government spending.

But governing is full of protecting intangibles — elements on a budget that can’t be fiscally qualified for their worth.

You can’t put a price on the contribution of parkland to the well-being of the people and the preservation of the environment. It’s difficult to quantify the long-term destructive effects of slashing teacher salaries or laying them off in droves. Absent the ability to put educating our children or beautifying our state in black ink on the budget, Scott started cutting.

Those types of cuts almost invariably lead to a shameful game of “pass the buck” when it comes to funding our schools. Tallahassee shirks its responsibility to fund schools, then counties, then homeowners, then finally consumers.

That serial shirking of responsibility has made Florida one of the worst-ranked states in the nation, ranking No. 36 in educational funding per student, according to the Nation Center for Education Statistics. Under Scott’s plan, we’d fall to No. 41.

In Florida’s recent history, an already severely strained educational budget has become the whipping boy of legislators and, ironically, the voters.

Given the choice to cut funding from any major state programs, Tallahassee almost invariably cuts education.

At a time when depressed property values are leading to serious drops in the funding available for school systems at the county level, coupled with an already strained economy, this is a worst-case scenario for yet another serious funding cut.

Some have argued and will argue that cutting education funding doesn’t necessarily lead to worse education. But the only metric they can point to for that is test scores on increasingly specialized standardized tests.

More and more, the well-rounded education enjoyed by generations of Americans is disappearing as art, music and physical education, as well as other specialized programs, get the axe.

And once they’re gone, the chances of them ever coming back is slim. The reason: taxes. It may as well be a four-letter word, even when it would directly fund education.

In November of 2010, both Orange and Seminole County proposed a property tax hike to pay for schools. Seminole County’s school board only asked for half a penny per $1,000 of taxable value and failed. Orange County asked for a whole penny, and it passed.

But how long the voters will be willing to pay for education through their own property taxes remains to be seen. For many counties, voters appear to have already reached a breaking point.

If Scott gets his way, however unlikely, homeowners will likely have to pay again for the shortsightedness of Tallahassee.

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