With midterm elections now behind us, it’s time for lawmakers to address years of budget cuts and underinvestment in communities.
Notably, 20 out of the 20 local tax referendums were approved — voters chose to fund teachers and schools, transportation, parks, trails, libraries and fire services. Floridians care about their neighborhoods, and since the state has been underfunding communities for nearly a decade now, voters across the political spectrum made decisions to raise revenue at the local level. Additionally, the failure of Amendment 1 will allow for local budgets to remain intact.
Significant challenges await our next state leaders. Florida’s tax system ranks 48th in the nation for fairness, and with the passage of Amendment 5, it will be very hard to reform. Those with the lowest household income right now are contributing the largest share. The state is also funding schools below pre-recession levels, our share of residents with health insurance is one of the lowest in the nation, our criminal justice system needs an overhaul and Florida’s investment in mental health services is sorely lacking.
There are specific issues that Florida lawmakers must address in order to move the state forward. Criminal justice reform, on the heels of the passage of Amendments 4 and 11, should be a top priority. Supporting thriving communities means fully funding the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund and the Florida Forever fund, making housing more affordable and preserving our treasured environment. Increasing investment in PreK-12 and higher education would boost our talent pipeline for employers and broaden opportunities for economic mobility.
Florida voters last night watched as three states — Utah, Idaho and Nebraska — expanded their Medicaid program via ballot initiative. Our new state leaders can take similar action to cover the 400,000 low-income residents living in our state’s health insurance ‘coverage gap.’
Lawmakers also need to regularly evaluate tax expenditures to see if the costs outweigh the benefits. This year alone Florida is spending $20 billion in tax breaks and loopholes. In many instances, this forgone revenue could be better spent on Florida communities.
The Florida Policy Institute will continue its analyses of the state budget and policies that affect widespread economic prosperity, and we look forward to working with the new governor and Legislature to make Florida a great place to live, work and raise a family.