Sonia Lindell
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April 17, 2018

On Tax Day, Remember the Importance of Investing in Our Communities

On Tax Day, Remember the Importance of Investing in Our Communities

When you ask Floridians what they love most about where they live, they might name their favorite beach, or say that they like their child’s school. Maybe they will note that it’s a short drive to their favorite park, or that their neighborhood has a low crime rate.

Those things that people cherish in their neighborhoods — high-quality public schools, updated roads and bridges, parks, beaches, clean water and safe communities — are supported through taxes.

The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) provides a four-point plan on how states can build thriving economies by fully investing in those areas that improve the health and well-being of residents. Not included in the blueprint are tax cuts for special interests.

So, how does Florida measure up? Below are CBPP’s recommendations, along with the Florida Policy Institute’s gauge on how we are doing:

Invest in education and health to unleash residents’ potential and boost productivity. Florida, like many other states, is still funding public education below the pre-recession level, when accounting for inflation. While the fiscal year (FY) 2018-19 budget did include a $100 boost in per-pupil funding, which brought it up to $7,408, the funding would need to be at about $8,327 to match the FY 2007-08 level.

In terms of investing in health care, the Sunshine State still has a long way to go. Expanding Medicaid to more than 500,000 low-income residents would lower Florida’s uninsured rate, while drawing down billions in federal funding.

Launch public infrastructure projects to create jobs, spur growth, and promote equity. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Florida a grade of “C” in its most recent report card, noting that, “Florida is growing, and the State’s infrastructure needs a growth spurt of its own to keep up.”

One example of the kind of project that might help improve Florida’s grade next year is the $400 million Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement, which has an estimated completion date of 2020.

Ensuring that infrastructure projects are targeted to communities with the greatest need is key here, too.

Boost household incomes for shared prosperity. Forty-four percent of Florida households are struggling to make ends meet, according to the 2017 United Way ALICE report. The Florida Policy Institute has noted that the state is primarily a low-wage service economy, with more than two-thirds of full-times jobs in Florida paying less than $20/hour.

Instituting a state earned income tax credit, raising the minimum wage and investing in affordable housing are just a few of the ways in which Florida could help its hard-working families.

Another one of CBPP’s multiple recommendations for boosting income — reducing incarceration— is beginning to take shape in Florida. Governor Rick Scott recently signed into law three reform bills, including one that creates a criminal justice database. Florida is a trailblazer in this respect, the first state in the nation to require every local and state agency to uniformly collect accurate data from state attorneys and public defenders.

Clean up the tax code. Florida is projected to spend $20 billion on tax credits and exemptions in the next fiscal year, July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. While appropriations are reviewed annually through the budget process, spending through the tax code is seldom revisited once an expenditure is written into statute. This means that special-interest loopholes fly largely under the radar.

Exacerbating this issue is the possibility of a supermajority-vote requirement in Florida to eliminate a state credit or exemption, increase a state tax or fee or institute a new state tax or fee. This would make it even harder to remove those tax preferences that serve no economic purpose. In many cases, the foregone revenue from these credits and exemptions would better serve Floridians as reinvestment in those areas that help communities flourish: public education, affordable health care and housing and roads and bridges, to name a few.

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