For all the talk of limiting government, Florida spends 50% more now than when voters first elected Jeb Bush.
Is that all there is?
From the time of his first campaign for governor in 1994, Jeb Bush has talked about limiting the size and scope of state government. In his second inaugural speech, in 2003, he famously mused about emptying out government buildings.
But today, about the only thing empty around Tallahassee seems to be the restaurants around the Capitol after the ban on freebies. No state agency has been abolished during Bush's eight years as governor, although some have been rearranged. Even when functions have been "privatized," the state remains responsible for the cost and oversees the contracts. The state budget in the 2005-06 fiscal year is 43.6% larger than the last budget under his predecessor, Gov. Lawton Chiles, and next year's will be nearly 10% bigger. The only part of the governor's budget that shrank this session was the tax cuts.
So much for the Republican Revolution of 1994, when Newt Gingrich was leading the astounding Republican takeover of Congress and installing himself as Speaker of the U.S. House and when feisty anti-government Bush in Florida nearly blocked the he-coon's re-election. Could Bush in 1994 have imagined that state spending would grow by 50% under his governorship?
Two important things must be said in Bush's favor: First, Bush so far has met his one stated measure for limiting government, which was that spending growth should not exceed growth in Floridians' personal income. We have 43.6% more state spending, 46.5% more personal income (not counting next year).
Second, Bush has done better on this than Chiles, who often talked about "right-sizing" government but whose budget growth of 64.4% outstripped income growth of 57.5%. Chiles' budgets would have grown even more if the Legislature hadn't balked at his tax increases. Bush takes credit for tax cuts totaling $14 billion or more a year, no small potatoes.
So those who muse what state growth would have been like under a Democrat (or a less determined Republican) have an excellent point. You can also factor in the revenue from a booming state economy bolstered by Bush's pro-business policies.
But it's still bigger government. All of Bush's cushion between spending and personal income happened in the 2001-02 fiscal year. The economic relapse following 9/11 produced a 10% cut in state spending while personal income grew 4%. The next year, spending was a tad lower than income. (The numbers come from Florida TaxWatch, the business-oriented private watchdog group.) In the other years, spending outpaced income growth.