As a former actor once said: “There he goes again.”
We’ve been through this once before. Gov. Scott did the same thing last year when he dropped a last minute bombshell proposal to create a statewide teacher health insurance contract. This time he wants an arbitrary reduction in staff-to-student ratios that he says will save $262 million over five years. Doing this gives the legislature no time for careful consideration. He wants it that way, apparently.
Under Scott’s new plan, property tax rates would hold steady through fiscal year 2024. Property taxpayers gotta love that.
And Scott’s other major proposal will double the pleasure. Scott announced the details on where to find $58 million in “one-time money” to transfer to the education fund, thereby avoiding a 5-to-7 cent property tax increase in the budget confronting the Legislature. The money will be paid back over time, mainly by asking schools to reduce the size of educational staff over the next five years, according to the governor.
The administration claims its proposals would balance out, with the education fund operating deficit shrinking to nothing from today’s $58 million in five years, 2023.
But as legislative budget analyst Mark Perrault told a House committee last week, “It’s highly speculative to book savings five years out. You can hope that we save money, but there is no guarantee.”
Is it because he think it’s good politics? Under his plan, property tax rates would hold steady through fiscal year 2024. Of course that sounds good. But $58 million in one-time funds? Didn’t they do that last year? How did that work out? Just made a big hole to dig out of this year. And here we go again.
And five years? That is an eternity when it comes to predictions: economic, political. Remember what the country and the federal budget was like five years ago? What happens if the current economic growth ends? Economic growth doesn’t go on endlessly. Fact is, you can count on Scott’s projections getting derailed.
If he was a true fiscal conservative, he would take the opposite tack. As Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson, pointed out, using that money to pay down some of the state’s unfunded pension obligations could save taxpayers a lot more money over the next five years. It seems he has stood true fiscal conservatism on its head.