Innovative Governor?

Charlie Crist is Florida’s self-labeled “innovative” and “open-minded” governor.

That description has generally resonated because he’s an ideological hybrid. And a genuinely nice guy.

Yet the governor, enabled by a Republican-dominated Legislature, remains as taboo-challenged as any traditional politician when it comes to revenue raising. Witness the approach to Florida’s looming $1.1 billion deficit, one caused and exacerbated by the end of the rapid-growth era and the onset of mortgage meltdowns and property tax-cut fever.

The main solution? Budget cuts. Sorry, higher education, juvenile justice, highway repair and Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute. And head’s up, rainy-day reserves, and watch out, trust funds.To be sure, budget cuts should always be on the table in a deficit scenario. But these are short-term band aids, especially when projections show budget gaps of $2.3 billion, $2.8 billion and $3 billion over the next three years. Clearly a sales-tax skewed revenue system is woefully insufficient. And accelerating public spending is no long-term stimulus.

And yet, meaningful revenue raising is not on the table — not even university tuition — unless, of course, you count the governor’s equivocating approach to baccarat and pie-in-the-sky notions about selling off some highways or the state lottery.

A truly “innovative” leader, peering down the path of foreseeable deficits might want to resurrect the gubernatorial bully pulpit that was last used to push school vouchers and the FCAT. A minimum state income tax and sales tax exemptions, including services, for example, can’t continue to be treated like a political third rail – or a contrary position on the Cuban embargo.

If baccarat, blackjack and highway sales are on the table, so should a more equitable, less regressive, more productive tax system.

To dismiss such options out of hand is not to be “open-minded.” It is to unnecessarily gamble on Florida’s future.

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