April 12, 2008

Florida Budget Priorities

Since the idiots in Tallahassee our elected officials seem to be having a problem understanding what their priorities should be, I thought I'd put together a list for them to refer to. So here they are, in order of importance.

This must be Number One, before anything else on a rational budget. You can't thrive in the world without an education. You need a good education to get a good job, or to understand the world around you. To solve our problems we must understand them; and the problems we'll face tomorrow will only be more complex. Our schools must not be treated as a baby-sitting or warehouse service; our children must grow up to be the leaders of tomorrow. We must prepare our children to face the problems facing them, and that means fully funding our schools. Remember, in a few decades your children will be taking care of YOU.

We must be safe. If you do not understand this, you should not be in public service. We need to know that our laws will be enforced, and that help will come in an emergency. Our police and fire departments lay their lives on the line for us, the least we can do is make sure they have the equipment they need to do that job. A police officer shouldn't be alone on patrol. Firefighters need to have gear they can rely on, and paramedics need to have the supplies they need to save lives. We also need to ensure that they can pay their bills, and that their families are provided for if the worst should happen. Cutting their budget is like cutting off your arm or leg, or that of someone you love.

Without clean water, you have nothing. We must stop dumping sewage in our oceans; this contaminates our oceans and destroys our fisheries. We must stop further destruction of the Everglades; most animals know better than to destroy their own homes, and it's time we learned at least that much.

We must carefully regulate the use of our fresh water supply; we can't continue to squander drinking water on our lawns, golf courses or the estates of a privileged few. We're literally flushing our most precious resource down the drain. NOW is the time to ensure that we'll continue to have fresh water in the future. With prudent management, we should never have to worry about the taps running dry.

Apparently some of you missed the 1970s and the two crises that should have alerted you to the fact that the supply of oil is finite. We should have been building our cars and trucks with an emphasis on efficiency; instead, you've allowed Detroit to foist bulky and inefficient SUVs on us. The result is that instead of building up a reserve of decades that would have stabilized both supply and price, you've left us at the mercy of foreign powers. Gasoline is rapidly climbing towards $4 a gallon on average. It's becoming too expensive to drive our big, gas-guzzling cars, and even the more efficient cars are becoming increasingly costly to operate.

Yes, it's great that we're starting to see hybrids that get greater mileage, but not everyone can afford them; and even if we could, we still don't know how long the batteries will last and how much they'll cost to replace.

No, we must stop focusing on accommodating automobiles; we must not expand their infrastructure, we must not widen our highways, or add new routes. It's time to get cars OFF the road. And we do that by giving would-be motorists better options; and that means buses and trains.

It's time to design transit systems that WORK. We can't look at the broken half-formed poor excuse of a system now in place and claim that it teaches us anything. Learn the lessons Tri-Rail teaches us: once the double-tracking allowed trains to run every half-hour during rush hour, ridership shot up. People will use public transit if it is reasonably convenient for them to do so. This has been proven around the world time and time again. We are no exception to that. It's no longer viable to use the excuse that other places had it longer, or that it was cheaper then: it really wasn't. It used up just as much resources then as it would now.

We need to act now to solve tomorrow's fuel crisis. Our economy will collapse if people can't afford to get around town. Businesses are already seeing a drop in patronage as people stay home more. People on the lower half of the economic scale may soon have to choose between putting gas in their tank or putting food on the table. Some are already there.

The simple-minded Republican solution of cutting taxes will not get us out of this mess. Neither will hand-outs. We need to set clear and logical budget priorities, and exercise prudent administration of our tax monies.

We shouldn't underwrite businesses that make enough to pay their own way; our sports franchises make a lot of money for themselves, they don't need a dime of tax money. Expenditures at the state level must reflect value for the entire state; at the same time, the state needs to make sure that a fair proportion of funds return to their county of origin.

The legislature needs to stop wasting our tax dollars debating bad law, such as the bill forcing women to pay for ultra-sounds before having an abortion; our legislators are not doctors, and have no business dictating unnecessary medical procedures. It's wasteful and a clear abuse of power. How much has this stupid debate cost the taxpayer so far? Such behavior will not get us out of our budget mess, and should be stopped immediately.

There's a lot I left out of my budget discussion; that's because we need to concentrate on the four areas I laid out above. Everything else must be dealt with AFTER these four key areas.

The next time we're adding frivolous amendments, we should consider adding practical ones: preventing budget cuts in the areas outlined above except under very proscribed and specific circumstances.

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