Originally Posted on WCTV6-CBS The Usual Suspects blog as “A Tale of Two Cities” on December 15, 2010By J. Robert McClure III, PhD., President and CEO of The James Madison Institute
To appreciate the difference that leadership committed to fiscal fitness can make, compare the responses to this week’s dismal budget news out of Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. It is truly a tale of two cities.In Florida’s capital, the Legislature’s forecasters projected that the state’s “budget gap” between expected revenue and spending in the fiscal year ahead had grown to $3.5 billion. As a result, the state’s new leadership team is already looking for responsible ways to pare spending instead of raising taxes and fees to meet the state Constitution’s requirement of a balanced budget. They know that a recession is no time for governments to take more money out of the taxpayers’ pockets.  Meanwhile, in our nation’s capital, it was quite a different story. The U.S. Senate released a 1,924-page appropriations bill whose $1.2 trillion in spending included $8 billion in dubious “earmarks.” Ironically, this proposed spending bill was released just a few days after lawmakers – evidently chastened by November’s election results – had vowed to place a moratorium on earmarks. Worse, among the earmarks in this bill were embarrassingly costly ones sponsored by some of the most vocal critics of earmarks.Although earmarks represent only a relatively small portion of the bloated federal budget, they play a key role in floating the bloat. As South Carolina’s Sen. Jim DeMint recently explained, the horse-trading revolving around these special projects induces lawmakers in both the House and Senate – and on both sides of the aisle – to vote for federal budgets that they know in their hearts are irresponsible.Worse, as the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, the federal government’s fiscal trends are truly alarming. The deficits are skyrocketing in relation to the nation’s ability to pay, as reflected in the overall size of the economy, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And the recent report of the bipartisan commission tasked with finding ways to reduce deficit spending received a reception as cold as Washington’s winter weather.That’s especially worrisome because, as Heritage notes, “Recent budget deficits have reached unprecedented levels, but the future will be much worse. Unless entitlements are reformed, spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will drive deficits to unsustainable levels.”Back in Tallahassee, Florida’s new leaders are committed to strategies intended to create jobs and revive the state’s economy. Yet, given the Florida economy’s reliance on segments such as tourism and construction, there’s only so much the state’s leaders can do until Washington gets its act together.