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Managing Florida’s budget in 2009-10

Should we increase taxes? This is the question most fought about when considering legislative ideas for our next budget. Here’s a few thoughts on taxes and service fees ranging from raising Florida state college tuitions to the so called sin taxes.

Increase Florida’s cigarette tax
We don’t need the lowest rates in the nation and surely there is some compromise that would enable taxes to be raised without everyone driving to Georgia to get cheaper cigarettes. The reality is, the largest populations are too far from our border to waste time and fuel to drive to Ga for cigarettes. The talk has all been about $1 being too much. Ok, so how about $0.50? Surely there must be some acceptable number.


This is really a federal initiative, but our state needs to get behind it.
A tax free Internet was originally approved in order to get it moving. Well now it’s a huge retail force and it no longer makes sense. It’s also not practical to have businesses collect sales tax at all the different rates that exist out there. It would put too many small businesses out of business. I propose a national internet sales tax. Here’s how it works:
– You collect and pay state sales tax just as you do now.
– If you collect and pay for all states, you continue with that.
– If you are currently exempt from collecting sales tax other than your home state, you will now collect sales tax in the amount of 3% for everywhere except your home state. That money will be sent to the Federal government and pooled for redistribution by some formula. In order for this to work, it has to be simple. There can be no demand for state by state reporting or it’s too much of a burden on small businesses. This process should be implemented using the EFTPS system.

Eliminate Lt. Governor position. Savings $1.5 million annually
The Lt. Governor position cost taxpayers over $1.5 million when salary, expenses, support staff, state trooper assistance and such are all added up. The position exists so that someone can step in if something were to happen to the governor. If the Lt. Governor job description included spending a substantial portion of his or her time in the trenches meeting with constituents to discuss issues, not participate in ceremonial functions; met regularly with governing bodies and such, it might make sense. But the job is largely ceremonial. I contend that we have state legislators who are in a better position to ‘step into’ the job than the Lt. Governor. Does it make financial sense to keep this fluff job? I propose each governor can designate a member of the state house or senate at the beginning of the term to succeed in the case of emergency. That person would hold office until the next general election. If you don’t like that, I’m sure there are other ideas that are close enough this could be worked out.

Florida pays for computers, blackberries and other hardware over and over again simply because it is ‘lost’. This has got to stop. Broward County alone has a multi-million dollar ‘losses’ whether through theft, poor tracking, or improper distribution of tech products.

Do schools need new books for every class, every year? There are several problems here.
– Some books are never used because there were not enough students for them. Schools order enough for the entire incoming class, whether they need them or not.
– Schools get books that contain never used interactive materials. This problem is largely being driven by book manufacturers who found a way to increase profits with ‘enhanced’ books.
– Instead of using the same textbook year after year, a ‘revised’ textbook is released and ordered. Typically there is little change from prior textbooks but it significantly increases student books costs particularly in college.

It’s not just the federal level. Plenty of pet projects come up at the state level that are ‘nice’ but not necessary. Get rid of them. Would you rather have new lights on Las Olas or higher teacher pay?

Revise Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program
This is necessary for the long term health of the program. Beginning with the class of 2014, students will have to meet a specific standard of excellence to be determined. This should be grades and SAT based. Rather than setting income requirements, consider putting an option on the application to ‘donate’ their scholarship to a needy student who meets the same academic requirements. This money would be pooled to help needy students with housing, book purchases and other needs not normally covered under bright futures.

Revise the Florida property tax system
I’ve written on this before. Save our Homes is great if you’ve lived here, but the overall program has created a hugely unfair tax system. One day we need to bite the bullet and revamp the entire system. Painful? Yes. Necessary? Yes.

Another year of the same Lighthouse Point budget process

In 2006, I requested the city start increasing transparency of expenditures. How can city commissioners really have any oversight, or anyone for that matter, without any real information to look at? As far as I can tell, there has been no change.

Here’s the Lighthouse Point 2008-09 adopted budget (pdf)

Here’s the City of Parkland 2008-09 adopted budget-zip/pdf file. I recommended our commissioners look into Parkland as an example our city should strive for two years ago. Parkland’s population is roughly the same size as ours, a little bit bigger and they provide similar services.

Look at the difference in the annual report. Everyone knows what money is being spent on, what objectives and achievements are in various departments. As our state and country continue to look for ways to cut costs, you must have transparency and accountability. There is a bigger report than the LHP link above that is used for budget reviews, but the line items on the reports change frequently so there is no year to year comparison, plus there is simply no comparison to Parklands.

What about other cities? How do we match up? The fact that we have a good bond rating doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. We’ve brought money in, we’ve spent it, and we haven’t gotten ourselves into big debt. That’s great.

Nearly all residents have a beef about something. Kids aren’t happy with the book choices in our library. We’re told there are not enough funds to buy too many books (we have $60,000 budget). Many aren’t happy with our bumpy road conditions. Where will the money come from to fix them? Our capital improvements projects list cannot be fulfilled due to lack of funds and we’ll probably need to float another bond. This is why we need transparency. So that over time, we can meet whatever needs face us. So we can make logical decisions based on facts, not based on how it was done last year and 10 years ago.