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Politics

Legislative Dysfunction in Tallahassee Not a Bad Thing for Conservatives

April 27, 2015 - 6:00pm

In her classic The March of Folly," the great historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity.

Certainly, we have seen that in Washington, D.C., over the last 15 years. In the years to come, very few people will cite the tenures of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as model presidencies.

Florida Republicans have made political hay during Obamas presidency by trying to contrast the state government with the dysfunction in the Beltway. Things might be bad in Tallahassee, the GOP leaders say, but nowhere near as bad as in Washington.

Well, dysfunction came to Tallahassee on Tuesday as Speaker Steve Crisafullis sudden adjournment of the Florida House marked the end of the regular legislative session. Despite Republicans controlling 26 of the 40 seats in the Senate and 81 of the 120 seats in the House, the chambers were nowhere near agreement on the budget or Medicaid expansion. With massive majorities in both chambers and holding the governorship and every single office in the Cabinet, it was not too much to expect Republicans to be on the same page.

But there can be some good that comes out of political dysfunction. Gov. Rick Scott and Merritt Island Republican Crisafulli are right in being worried about Medicaid expansion. With its fiscal house out of order, the federal government cant be relied upon to cover most of the Medicaid expansion costs down the road.

Thats a major concern, especially since state government continues to grow at a troubling pace in Florida. In 2010, Gov. Charlie Crists last year in Tallahassee, the budget stood just under $65.5 billion. If President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and the Senate get their way, the budget will have gone up to $81.4 billion in a five-year span. Conservatives would grab their pitchforks and march on Washington if federal expenses went up around 25 percent during a five-year period -- exactly what would happen if the Senates budget and Medicaid expansion prevail.

Over the last five years, Florida Republicans have been only too eager to jettison fiscal conservatism. Sure, the revenue was flowing in as Florida rebounded from the Great Recession with new jobs and record-breaking tourism. Scott and the Legislature were able to hold the line on state college and university tuition while offering some tax cuts and lower fees.

But government spending continued to increase and thats especially harmful in a state like Florida. Few other states were hurt as hard in the Great Recession as Florida was. Not surprisingly, one of the struggling states was Nevada with its economy based on real estate and tourism.

Sound familiar? Floridas economy relies on other factors -- agriculture and hopefully an increased role for logistics and transportation as the Panama Canal expansion nears completion -- but the Sunshine State still depends on tourism and new home construction to keep it afloat. Those are industries that are hurt badly in a struggling economy with revenue shrinking accordingly, just as it did in Florida during the recession. That being the case, Scott and the Legislature needed to be wiser over the last five years in limiting government growth.

Which is why Tuesday was a good day for conservatives in the Sunshine State. While not exactly the most graceful way of handling things, the Houses sudden adjournment helps ensure Floridas budget doesnt go up even higher. Dysfunction isnt always a bad thing in government and some of the most prosperous times in American history were aided by gridlock in Washington: Dwight Eisenhower with a Democratic Congress, Ronald Reagan against Tip ONeill in the 1980s, Bill Clinton versus Newt Gingrich.

For far too long, with Republicans holding almost all the cards in Tallahassee, the price tag of Floridas government has been going up. But with the House and the Senate at each other's throats, the increase to the cost of Florida government is at least somewhat limited, even if some benefits, like Scotts tax cut proposal, are lost. Republicans might be fighting it out in Tallahassee, but thats not necessarily a bad thing for conservatives.


Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

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