Report: Policymakers must make tough choices to shape Florida’s future

Carol Weissert

On the eve of the 2009 session of the Florida Legislature, the LeRoy Collins Institute has released a new report outlining the state’s increasingly untenable fiscal bind and encouraging policymakers to be forward-thinking and imaginative in dealing with budget shortfalls.

In its 2009 update of "Tough Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future," the LeRoy Collins Institute chronicles the drop in state revenues over the past three years and analyzes the trends in construction jobs, tourism and unemployment rates. It is clear from the analysis that the problems stem from reduced revenues, not excessive spending, said Carol S. Weissert, professor of political science at The Florida State University and director of the LeRoy Collins Institute.

Florida has experienced a recurring general revenue reduction of 17.1 percent over the past three years and will experience a continuing decline until at least 2010, according to the report. The 2009-10 budget shortfall is more than $5 billion despite a $6 billion reduction in the state budget over the past three years.

"As the Legislature begins its annual session, this update is more important than ever in helping policymakers put the current economic problems in a long-term context," Weissert said. "Our problems are not transitory or new. However, the fiscal difficulties offer an opportunity for political leaders to make the tough choices to assure that Florida in five, 10 and 20 years is the one we want for our children and grandchildren."

Among the report’s findings:

  • Construction jobs have sharply declined, tourism has flattened, and more people are leaving Florida than moving in.
  • Florida’s prodigious population growth of the past decades has slowed as the state is no longer a cheap place to live.
  • The local share of preK-12 education continues to increase; meanwhile, teacher salaries remain low compared to other southeastern states.
  • Public support of higher education measured by per capita public spending is dramatically behind other states in the South and the United States as a whole. On average, Florida spends about $95 less than Georgia, North Carolina and Texas and $80 less per capita than the rest of the nation.
  • Medicaid enrollment rises in tough economic times when policymakers are most likely to consider cuts in this essential health care program for the poor.

In 2005, the LeRoy Collins Institute published "Tough Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future and Facing Florida’s Revenue Shortfall" based on its research supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. The publication provided an in-depth analysis of Florida tax and spending policy including Medicaid, preK-12 education, higher education and children’s health and welfare.

The 2009 update, written by Weissert and Jessie H. Ice, a Florida State political science graduate student, marks the second update to the original 2005 publication. Copies of this update, along with the original report and a 2008 update may be found on the Collins Institute Web site:

The LeRoy Collins Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and non-profit organization that studies and promotes creative solutions to key private and public issues facing the people of Florida and the nation. The institute, located at The Florida State University, is affiliated with and works in collaboration with the State University System of Florida.