If Republicans believe in smaller government and world-class education, why do we have neither?
A little earlier in the month, on a cool mid-January day, the Republican Speaker of the House, Marco Rubio, rode the elevator to the 22nd floor of the Capitol to offer his recurring riff against the size of Florida government and offered a different two-step — a complaint about government spending and a complaint about the unsatisfactory quality of education.
In fact, Rubio told the business writers gathered there that Florida is starting to look like Cuba. Really. “Florida is starting to resemble the place I came here to get away from,” said Rubio, the first Cuban-American Speaker of the House. (Actually he was born in Miami, to parents from Cuba.)
Rubio complained about “the red-tape tax — how much does it cost to comply with government regulations in Florida?” And he spoke of people “paying taxes they cannot afford to pay.”
Barely were those words out of his mouth when he began promoting the need for “a world-class curriculum” in Florida. “We have to accept the notion that our children are competing with children halfway across the world,”
Rubio said. “They are at a huge, enormous competitive disadvantage.”
It’s not clear what non-tax potion will produce this (higher tuition maybe?) — and Rubio has been outdoing everyone else on anti-tax rhetoric the past few months. At the very universities where businesses would like to see determined progress toward higher educational quality (this fourth-largest state has only one top-50 university), presidents were desperately cutting faculty slots and reducing travel and research support because tax revenue wasn’t meeting expectations (as anybody reading the headlines last fall could have told them would happen).
Crist at least is setting aside $138 million in this supposedly stringent budget year just to replace K-12 taxes lost to his tax-cut amendment. He proposes an overall 5.6% increase in per-pupil spending, but you can thank the much-reviled class-size amendment for propelling the growth in school spending. Rubio has already criticized Crist for tapping non-recurring revenue for recurring expenses.
But today if we want to sell a good idea, we have to sell it as a business necessity, not as a societal good, which no one in politics seems to care about. The reason for a world-class curriculum, Rubio told the business writers, is so “people say, ‘That’s the place I want to risk my capital’ ” and choose Florida over other possible business locations.
As for smaller government, what would we boldly get rid of, among all government services, that would help bring government into line with Rubio’s preferred scale? Well, he’d heard, but had not confirmed, that there is a metric commission, “to help Floridians adjust to the metric system.” He called it “an amazing development.”
It isn’t true. But even if it were, we could cut out a score of “metric commissions” and make barely a dent in state government spending, since all of general government (including the governor’s office and the Legislature) makes up just 3.25% of the state’s $70-billion budget this year.
Heaven knows we need to look for things that were good ideas once but no longer are. But to pretend that these sorts of things are a bold reconsideration of government is silliness.