Two weeks ago, we spoke with University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith `"Ponzi scheme," April 16`, who says Florida has to dramatically alter its tax structure to keep pace with a changing paradigm. Since fewer people are coming into the state, a no-tax mentality built on an influx of new residents each and every year is no longer viable.
He may be on to something. On April 22, the Associated Press reported on new Census Bureau data showing that between July 2007 and July 2008, more Floridians left than moved here from other states, the first time that's happened since the 1940s. Yikes.
The state still had positive population growth, barely, thanks to babies and foreign immigrants. Which buttresses Snaith's point: Florida's tax structure needs an overhaul that may mean more taxes for things like schools and roads. Already, Florida is scraping the bottom when it comes to per-pupil education spending, massive cuts are coming to our state university system (see below), we already endure hellish traffic congestion, and there's only so much we can raid from our various trust funds to patch the perennial budget deficits before those too run dry. So, you know, maybe it's time to rethink things.
But then again, the words "forward-thinking" and "Florida Legislature" never quite fit together. Let's assess the current state of affairs as this legislative session mercifully meanders to a close:
After weeks of thumb-twiddling, Gov. Charlie Crist's education commissioner finally got around to applying for the $1.5 billion in Obama Bucks set aside for this state in the stimulus package. The delay had lawmakers infuriated, since we need that money to pay for school. Of course, there's no guarantee we'll get all the money. As the Miami Herald explains, "As one of a handful of states that underfunded education in recent years, Florida had to apply for a special waiver."
The feds don't trust us.
Also, while state House and Senate budget negotiators plan to hack between $41 million and $324 million from the state university system, our governor — who for some reason has really high poll numbers — assures us that he's got everything under control. "I think it injects fear, and I don't think it's right," Crist told the Tallahassee Democrat. On April 27, the state Senate voted to allow state universities to patch that hole by hiking tuition up to 15 percent a year, eventually doubling in-state tuition rates by 2013.
Next, check out Senate Bill 242, which would impose criminal penalties on anyone who sells or administers a vaccine to a child 6 or under that contains more than .1 microgram per milliliter of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative. Thimerosal is nasty stuff in large enough doses, but this bill is based on the junk-science paranoia that tiny amounts cause autism. Pediatricians across the state are up in arms. They released a statement April 18 saying, "More children's lives have been saved by immunizations than anything else in health care." This restriction would severely limit Florida's vaccine supply.
Saving the best for last: The Republicans in the Legislature are trying to make it harder for the elderly to vote by restricting acceptable forms of ID to the driver's licenses that these geezers shouldn't have because, when you're 92 years old, you shouldn't be driving. Also, they're trying to run voter registration drives out of business — because ACORN is bad or something. And to top it off, they want to criminalize election protection programs that ensure that everyone's vote counts.
Crist says he might even veto that one.
It's so easy to get down sometimes, what with all the rumblings of economic failure, sensationalized missing babies and failed development promises. Thank heavens, then, for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission and their press-released chicken soup for our weary souls.
Earlier this month they came through with this missive: "With warm weather and consistent sunshine, Florida is an ideal location for solar research and application. And with growing awareness of clean technology, Orlando is poised to become a leading force in the solar industry."
The EDC goes on (and on) to point out how the Sunshine State is just so full of sunshine that it's literally about to burst, economically speaking. First, there's UCF's Florida Solar Energy Center, which stands like a beacon in a hippie's dark night. And in Lake Mary, there's Advanced Solar Photonics, who own the distinct honor of being one of Florida's first producers of super-thin photovoltaic panels. And best of all, there's sexy bald guy Joe McKenna, whose Longwood company, SKYShades, is set to take over the world with his solar-powered shade umbrellas (or "Powerbrellas"). Soon he'll be marketing solar parking garages, too! Yay!
Except not really. We remember just last month sitting through one of those Mad Men—era OUC board meetings and hearing their argument (amongst an array of PowerPoint nightmares) that the Sunshine State just isn't sunny enough; it's only 17 percent solar-viable, you see. Nukes ahoy!
While we're on the topic of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, they've got news for you: Everything is just fine!
They've released their annual Economic Development Footprints on heavy stock with a spiffy leafy footprint logo and attached this bit of boosterism: "This report affirms that, despite global recession, economic growth and job creation continue to occur here in Central Florida. Many of the strides made during the last year are outlined in this document, which, in concern for the environment, is fewer pages than in the past and is printed on 100 percent recycled paper."
They run through the usual sci-fi suspects -— the House of Moves motion capture studio, Kaplan University and the Virtual Reality Medical Center merger with TeKONTROL Inc. that is supposed to make magic in Parramore — along with some embarrassments — the films Bait Shop and Beethoven: The Reel Story, and the show Bridal Boot Camp, all filmed here! New projects include a Disney children's wing at Florida Hospital, a VA hospital, Burnham Institute for Medical Research and a "wet lab" from the Tavistock Group. Additionally, the city continues to grow its Cheney-Vader military industrial complex out by UCF. Oh, and a little something called SunRail that's not going to happen. The EDC claims that new projects have opened up 1,290 new jobs and $42 million in capital investment.
"Our message to business and government leaders at all levels is one and the same: Economic development is the key to economic recovery. Never has it been more important to stay the course."
The fine folks over at MSN Money have just released a report by their "experts" on the most recession-proof places to retire, possibly to a trailer near both a bus route and a hospital, Mabel. Orlando, pleasantly enough, comes in third, right behind Gainesville (where there are programs to assist you in beating out that college kid for a glamorous part-time mall job) and Ithaca, N.Y. (lots of other poor people and a great music scene).
Orlando is lauded for its stable home values (wha?), the theme parks, and its video-game industry, because old people are all about video games and water flumes. Also, "Orlando has earned the nickname ‘Hollywood East' for its film and television companies." If you buy that, we might be able to interest you in a hot new band called Creed. We hear they're about to blow up![email protected]