Time To Reap Bitter Florida Fruits

During his eight-year reign as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush seeded the ground for the bitter harvest we Floridians are about to reap. His handiwork is poised now to devastate this state and visit unprecedented suffering on its people. It will be a nightmare, part of which will imperil the public schools, the operation of local governments and the state retirement system.

The government of the State of Florida realizes most of its revenues by way of sales and use taxes, intangible taxes and corporate income taxes. Sales and use taxes are the most regressive and hit poor, working and retired people the hardest. These taxes have done nothing but increase and when they are discussed it is in the context of raising them.

Meanwhile, if he could have, Jeb Bush would have relieved Florida’s wealthy persons and corporate entities of their entire tax burden. As it stands he came very near his goal. Tax loopholes created during his administration for corporate income now shelter between $500 and $600 million that was counted as revenue before. $600 million more was lost to the state when Bush eliminated the tax on intangible properties (stocks and bonds) in January 2007.

Jeb Bush tried to privatize all things profitable and make the people assume all risk associated with investment. His program gave a leg up to charter schools and turned elements of the state’s water supply, public roads and social services over to wealthy investors. The lynchpin of his healthcare agenda was to turn Medicaid into a private managed health care system. That program was piloted in five counties. The Department of Children and Families was turned into a massive private gamble that money could be made off Florida’s most vulnerable children.

When investments went bad the working people of Florida ate the loss. In 2002 the state’s short-term investment and pension funds lost $334 million as Enron collapsed, three times the loss of any other fund in the nation. Jeb Bush’s minions invested in Edison charter schools when the stock was valued at $37 and got out when it was worth 14 cents. Another $500 million of the public’s money was lost to enable other corporate adventures.

But the worst was yet to come! Because although term limits forced Jeb Bush to give up his Tallahassee office in 2006, it did not thwart his determination to keep the apparatus of state government under his control. Gov. Charlie Crist can only dream of having as much influence in this state as Jeb Bush. Bush handed his sword over to Speaker Marco Rubio to control the Florida House of Representatives. He moved Sen. Alex Villalobos into a broom closet and out of the line of succession to be President of the Florida Senate. His minions are shot through the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and so in November we will be voting on draconian property tax cuts to kill the public schools and vouchers to boost the private schools. He put one of his stooges, Coleman Stipanovich, in charge of making decisions for the multi-billion dollar Local Government Investment Pool and the Florida Retirement System. Then he got himself a spot on the Board of Directors of Lehman Brothers, the giant Wall Street financial services corporation.

The now resigned Stipanovich made $1.5 billion in bad investments, $842 million of them purchased through Lehman Brothers. The pension fund now holds $756 million in worthless paper related to the housing market meltdown, almost 8% of its cash holdings. The state’s short-term investment fund is faced with similar losses. Jeb Bush and Lehman Brothers won’t be losing any sleep over it though because the vulnerability has been dumped on Florida’s 1.1 million current and retired state workers, hundreds of school districts and local governments, the state-created Citizens Property Insurance, and the state treasury.

This fiscal year the state treasury suffered the first waves of the tsunami that is coming. The servile Florida State Legislature was called back into special session barely six months after passing a $71 billion 2007 fiscal year budget to address a 1.1 billion dollar revenue shortfall. On that count, among other blows to the weakest and most vulnerable among us, these servants of the wealthy took $100 from each of Florida’s public school children to balance their budget. The lights had not been turned out in the Capitol Building when the Office of Policy and Budget projected an additional $2.5 billion revenue shortfall over the next 18 months.

Now the state finds itself in a $5 billion revenue hole and the proposed budget for this fiscal year is a crystal clear road map to where Bush’s Florida is headed. The public school system will be closed down! Accommodations for our children are being made in sparkling new prisons. Out of work teachers will turn their kids over to newly hired prison guards.

Under the conditions they are creating the Legislature anticipates an explosion in Florida’s prison population–107,000 inmates by June 2009. So they have earmarked $305 million to build one new private and two new public prisons and hire 1,000 new prison guards. Meanwhile, the public schools will suffer a $2.3 billion reduction in funding. That comes to another $140 less per child for education. There is actually $10 million less for the construction of K-12 school buildings than for prison buildings.

The Secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families Robert Butterworth has called this budget the equivalent of “a contract on kids.” In so many words, the Secretary is saying that kids are going to die. These children will be the battered human faces of these legislative choices. And they are choices! The taxes on wealthy Floridians and on corporations could have been restored to pre-Jeb Bush rates. The intangibles tax on stock and bond holders too. Schools could have been put before jails. Teachers and school bus drivers could have been funded before new prison guards even became necessary.

Paul A. Moore is a teacher at Miami Carol City Senior High School. He can be contacted at: Pmoore1953@aol.com. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John Wilkinson said on May 2nd, 2008 at 12:34pm #

    the whole country has become a banana republic run by oligarchy shot through rot and corruption. people dont want to pay for schools but they do want to pay for prisons. the media always run sensational articles on the latest crimes, but fail to explain how those criminals came to be. so, short run view wins over the long run view, in a country with short attention spans and horrible education, and the oligarchy exploits that. imho, one of the main reasons, if not the reason for the way things are, is the shitty education most people acquired here. and for that, teachers do share some blame. there are many who don’t care if the kids really learn. it’s not the only thing, but it’s part of the equation. i’ve come across cashiers in supermarkets who can’t perform simple addition (like $13.73 + $20.00 — they need a calculator for that). how in hell did they make it past the first grade, and how the hell is it possible that they weren’t taught this?

  2. John Wilkinson said on May 3rd, 2008 at 2:35pm #

    my wife just got a mailing from the county jury system. in it, a sentence that, in certain circumstances, she should contact the “commissioner of juror’s”. this on official stationary, official letter for official business. obviously, not a typo. produced by a member of the illiterate nation. this is grade school grammar (1st grade or so). if i had written “commisioner of juror’s” on a test of english in my native country (non-english speaking), I would have gotten a big, fat F.

    so, who taught these people the grammar, the math (see the math example above), the things they need in this society? you, the teachers. ostensibly when the times were good, but doesn’t matter. no matter how scarce the resources, how underpaid you are, what is the excuse for the school grads not knowing even the most basic stuff? for releasing such people into the society where they won’t have a clue? there is none and you’re to blame. now, you’re surprised that these same uneducated people, when they grow up, make the wrong choices, have the wrong priorities and are easily swayed by the swindlers in charge. well, you sowed the seeds, when you neglected your job. it seems to me, it really doesn’t matter if they cut the school funding to the bone — those shools ain’t worth nothing, as they say.

  3. John Wilkinson said on May 3rd, 2008 at 2:39pm #

    i inadvertently misspelled the word “commissioner” the second time…:)

  4. John Hatch said on May 3rd, 2008 at 4:36pm #

    If you think Jeb made a mess of Florida, just wait ’til he’s the Prez…

  5. Tom Joad said on May 5th, 2008 at 3:51pm #

    John Hatch said. “If you think Jeb made a mess of Florida, just wait ’til he’s the Prez…”

    John you know how to send chills up someones spine. As a lifelong resident of Florida I can tell you Jeb wants to be President in the worst way. He’s every bit as Evil as W, and a hell of a lot smarter. All I can say is BEWARE.

  6. David said on May 6th, 2008 at 10:23am #

    As a resident of the State of Florida, I have to wonder if the choice of prisons over schools wasn’t a wise one. The curriculum of the schools here is so geared to Jeb’s FCAT test, that they seem to have forgotten that the purpose of a school is education. Maybe our kids would be better off in the prisons. They might get more exercise as Phys Ed has been cut (because it’s not on the test) and they’re not allowed to run around during recess (liability issues, don’t you know).

    And before you get all bent out of shape by my sarcasm, consider this – I have two children who will be coming of school age in the next few years, so this is not just an issue of passing interest to me.

  7. patty lett said on August 2nd, 2008 at 11:05am #

    It seems that 2/3 of the people who commit crimes in vero beach are put directly to jail for years with prison down the line. Can’t they come up with a better decision than jail for almost any offense. And then prison has no reform .They just sit and stew with all the downhearted people. With no hope of bettering them self. Nothing to look forward to on the outside,since they are set up to fail. With all the stupid rules given for probation they certianly cannot hold a job. I believe the prison system is very corrupt.