In a legislative session that is loaded with bills that will harm Florida and Floridians, it's hard to imagine that any bill will do more damage to the state than the rewrite of tax law in SRJ 958, popularly referred to as a TABOR, or Taxpayer Bill of Rights Bill, because that's the name it had in other states. While the phrase "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" sounds almost laudable in and of itself, the problem is that, like many other Republican initiaties, what it actually does is undercut the rights of taxpayers by limiting government's ability to meet even the basic needs of its citizens. This particular bill was introduced by Republicans Ellyn Bogdanoff, J.D. Alexander and Don Gaetz in the senate.
The bill itself puts a cap on state revenue and only allows for the state to gather more revenue with a 2/3rds vote of the legislature. This, in and of itself, would be a horrible idea. The primary root of all of Florida's economic problems is two sources: A faltering economy that has hurt sales tax revenue and the unwillingness of Republicans to do anything to raise revenue, even common sense solutions. They are so anti-revenue that they are willing to risk almost any negative impact on the state in order to limit revenue. This bill would give them a constitutional justification to reject further revenue — no matter what the situation was. No matter what had to be cut, no matter what crisis the state was in, 1/3rd of the legislature plus one would be able to prevent any expansion of revenue. They say this is necessary because we are in a financial crisis. That's dishonest. We are in a financial crisis almost solely because of this type of governing. Before Republicans decided tax cuts were more important than anything short of Jesus, we didn't have a financial crisis in the state. Now we have one that they say requires Draconian cuts to the basic rights of Floridians and the elimination of benefits and services that the state not only promised to its citizens, but owes the citizens in a democratic country. The law would set state budget funding by a rigid critera that does not have the ability to meet the needs of Floridians or the fluctuations of the global economy which we are a part of. Because the formula is set over a very short time, it would mean that if Florida went into a recession, the state would permanently be hamstrug by a bad economy and would find it nearly impossible to ever recover.
That would be bad enough, but SRJ 958 goes further. In its first paragraph it says: "All other forms of taxation shall be preempted to the state except as provided by general law." This means that local governments would also lose the ability to decide things for themselves. This is a direct rejection of the home rule principle and the supposedly conservative idea that the government closest to the people decides what's best for the people closest to them. This bill would say that the government of Polk County would not be able to decide was best for their own economy and local needs, that Tallahassee would decide that for them. Same for all 66 other counties in the state. If I were a Tea Party member, I would be outraged at this bill. The fact that this bill will destroy all governments in the state and their ability to provide for their citizens outrages me as an American.
What this cap would mean was that local communities could not provide for the needs of their people. Schools would lose funding. Families would lose protections. Communities would lose jobs. Highways would become filled with potholes. Those amazing bridges and overpasses in South Florida would crumble and people's lives would be lost like the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota. Our infrastructure would start to fade like the zombie apocalypse had finally come and nobody kept up with civilization any more — they wouldn't take care of it anymore, they couldn't afford to. Firefighters, police officers and first responders would be laid off. Counties, like Duval County is already doing, would eliminate extracurricular activities like high school football and other sports. Fewer businesses would succeed, since they would lose government contracts. It would also remove any power or responsibility from our elected officials, as they would have no input on how money gets spent. Judges appointed by the governor would get the final say over whether or not particular spending is legal or not. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. What other horrors would happen? Would we start closing schools and colleges. Would we start closing prisons and setting violent criminals free. The reality is we are already doing that under previous spending cuts and tax cuts. This is like taking those previous cuts and putting them on steroids. Keep in mind that people on steroids almost always die young. And once this set of rules is in place, it'll be almost impossible to get rid of. Republicans want to experiment with a nonsensical theory that could destroy the state and if they are wrong, there is very little option for changing things.
Worst of all is that we don't have to speculate as to how this law would work in the real world. We already know. While most states who have considered a TABOR-style set of rules have sanely rejected it, Colorado did otherwise. Colorado actually instituted a TABOR law. Then they promptly went bankrupt and the state went into a recession. Education funding in the state went from 5th in the nation to 49th. The number of children without health insurance doubled. Children couldn't even get vaccinations that could save their lives. After a few years, Colorado suspened it's TABOR law with the strong support of the very people who instituted it in the first place. They knew it was a failure because not even the most partisan Republican could ignore such a strong reality.
Now think about Florida. Colorado benefitted from being one of the highest ranking states in most categories before TABOR went into effect. The devastation it caused hurt the state greatly, but Colorado wised up and got rid of TABOR before they hit the bottom of the rankings across the board. Florida doesn't have that luxury. We're already near the bottom of almost every positive comparative category. Even a year of TABOR means that people across the nation stop making fun of Mississippi and Alabama as the worst states in the nation and Florida becomes the shining beacon of ignorance, bad government and bad democracy in America. And beyond.
The one saving grace is that the law proposed by the legislature puts TABOR on the ballot for the voters of the state to decide rather than ramming it through the legislature and the cabinet. With the state's 60% requirement to pass ballot initiatives, there's a really good chance we can defeat it. We have to do whatever we can to make sure that happens. Otherwise, Florida not only becomes the laughing stock of the country, the lives of Floridians get so bad that people will start moving to Mississippi to improve their lifestyle.