Jeb's Economic Time Bomb In Florida
- During his eight-year reign as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush fashioned
an economic time bomb. On his way out the door he lit the fuse. His
handiwork will soon devastate this state and visit unprecedented
suffering on its people. It will be a nightmare, part of which will
imperil the public schools, the operation of local governments and the
state retirement system.
The government of the State of Florida realizes most of its revenues
by way of sales and use taxes, intangible taxes and corporate income
taxes. Sales and use taxes are the most regressive and hit poor,
working and retired people the hardest. These taxes have done nothing
but increase and when they are discussed it is in the context of
Meanwhile, if he could have, Jeb Bush would have relieved Florida's
wealthy persons and corporate entities of their entire tax burden. As
it stands he came very near his goal. Tax loopholes created during his
administration for corporate income now shelter between $500 and $600
million that was counted as revenue before. $600 million more was
lost to the state when Bush eliminated the tax on intangible
properties (stocks and bonds) in January 2007.
Jeb Bush tried to privatize all things profitable and make the people
assume all risk associated with investment. His program gave a leg up
to charter schools and turned elements of the state's water supply,
public roads and social services over to wealthy investors. The
lynchpin of his healthcare agenda was to turn Medicaid into a private
managed health care system. That program was piloted in five counties.
The Department of Children and Families was turned into a massive
private gamble that money could be made off Florida's most vulnerable
When investments went bad the working people of Florida ate the loss.
In 2002 the state's short-term investment and pension funds lost $334
million as Enron collapsed, three times the loss of any other fund in
the nation. Jeb Bush's minions invested in Edison charter schools when
the stock was valued at $37 and got out when it was worth 14 cents.
Another $500 million of the public's money was lost to enable other
But the worst was yet to come! Because although term limits forced Jeb
Bush to give up his Tallahassee office in 2006, it did not thwart his
plan for turning the apparatus of state government into his own
personal cash cow. First he put one of his stooges, Coleman
Stipanovich, in charge of making decisions for the multi-billion
dollar Local Government Investment Pool and the Florida Retirement
System. Then he got himself a spot on the Board of Directors of Lehman
Brothers, the giant Wall Street financial services corporation. This
unholy alliance has borne bitter fruits.
The now resigned Stipanovich made $1.5 billion in bad investments,
$842 million of them purchased through Lehman Brothers. The pension
fund now holds $756 million in worthless paper related to the housing
market meltdown, almost 8% of its cash holdings. The state's
short-term investment fund is faced with similar losses. Jeb Bush and
Lehman Brothers won't be losing any sleep over it though because the
vulnerability has been dumped on Florida's 1.1 million current and
retired state workers, hundreds of school districts and local
governments, the state-created Citizens Property Insurance, and the
This fiscal year the state treasury suffered the first waves of the
tsunami that is coming. The servile Florida State Legislature was
called back into special session barely six months after passing a $71
billion budget to address a 1.1 billion dollar revenue shortfall.
Among other things these servants of the wealthy took $100 from each
of Florida's public school children to rebalance the budget. The
lights had not been turned out in the Capitol Building when the Office
of Policy and Budget projected an additional $2.5 billion revenue
shortfall over the next 18 months.
And Florida, now weakened by the greed and avarice of a few, faces a
growing crisis in its second largest industry after tourism. To get a
sense of the outlook for agriculture consider these recent statements
and their sources:
· "We're not in any old drought. We're in what I like to call
the biblical drought." Shannon Estenoz, member of the South Florida
Water Management District's (SFWMD) governing board.
· "We are facing Armageddon. I think we are going to see
massive crop losses we have never seen before." Malcolm Wade, member
of the SFWMD and a Vice-President of U.S. Sugar.
· "We are beginning to see some of the initial signs of
collapse. If you're a farmer, you're going into the spring season with
a greater than 50 percent chance you're not going to have enough water
to make a crop." Nelson Mongiovi, director of the division of
marketing, Florida Department of Agriculture.
The crisis in agriculture threatens to shrink the state's revenues by
up to $8 billion more over the next five year.
Governor Charlie Crist is reportedly "torqued off" at the insurance
companies and wants property taxes to "drop like a rock" but neither
sentiment is more than public theatrics. The Governor and State
Legislature have no answers because the only solution requires they
turn on their masters. There is no salvation to be found in higher
sales taxes for working people, or slightly lower property taxes for
the average homeowner, or reduced funding for schools, fire and police
protection, or shredding the social safety net, or higher rates of
unemployment, homelessness, crime and violence. Florida's survival now
hinges on one question, "Can the people force Jeb Bush and his
corporate band of reverse-Robin Hood's to give up enough of their
ill-gotten wealth for the sake of everyone's survival?"
The men in charge in Florida have looked over the horizon and seen the
inferno that lies ahead. They fear only one forcetheir victims united
and mobilized in acts of resistance. They have already begun sowing
seeds of division hoping to block any uprising as human misery and
deprivation spread across the state. They don't expect their sham
property tax proposals to result in lower property tax bills. They
expect the measure to pit desperate homeowners against teachers, fire
fighters, police officers, and other workers living paycheck to
paycheck. Their campaign, as always, they will attempt to sharpen
racial divisions. They will point the finger at immigrant workers,
local governments, and district school boards. Any scapegoat will do
to divert attention from them as they make their getaway with the loot.
Paul A. Moore