Later this morning, a few thousand teachers and their friends will be gathering in Orlando to rally on behalf of public education in Florida. The Make Our Schools a Priority campaign has been making waves, most recently with a Brevard County 10,000-person “town hall” meeting with the county’s legislative delegation. If I weren’t still coughing and sneezing, I’d be on a bus this morning to Orlando, but I don’t think my friends from other unions really want what I have, and I trust that there will be enough people there.
Until Governor Crist announced his proposed budget at the end of last week, most people I’d talked to had assumed that both the governor and leaders from at least one chamber were open to increasing revenues. But then Crist dropped a bomb and suggested a budget that relied heavily on the federal recovery package, a gambling pact he wants the legislature to approve, and a handful of user fee increases. In other words, Crist refused to be out front in support of tax increases. Instead, he’s set up the dynamics of state politics to be able to lay the blame elsewhere for either tax increases or service cuts.
If I were a legislative leader, I might well feel as if the governor had stabbed me in the back, especially if I had been discussing tax increases as one option. As a voter, I think the proposed budget is Crist’s most cowardly moment in office, because it is unnecessary to defend his popularity (his ratings are high) and because it bollixes up what could have been a reasonably civil legislative session in horrible times. Instead, the session will start out with legislative leaders who will not be able to trust the governor to work with them and provide them cover for tax increases.
This is why the campaign on behalf of education funding is crucial, providing external pressure on legislators and convince them that not only is funding education the right thing, it’s also the politically smart thing.