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COLUMN

Happytown

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Now that we all know we'll be enjoying our ride to hell in a modified handbasket - rather than taking a fast train to Tampa, Gov. Scott - we can put the bad stuff behind us, right? From here on, life is going to be one big Charlie Sheen popsicle on our slow slide into obsolescence, a numb-faced yawn, just regular old life happening. Don't bet Florida Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos' dirty blond hair on it!

Haridopolos and his cohorts in the Senate have been racing through committee after committee in Tallahassee, hoping to ram through a relatively complex, extremely controversial piece of legislation known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). If all goes well, this little political euphemism will make its way to the Senate floor within the first two weeks of session, and it could wind up on next year's November ballot as a constitutional amendment initiative just in time for you to shoot yourself in the face with a teabag full of buckshot.

TABOR is nothing new. Similar attempts at capping state revenues via cold-hearted political-science algorithms have been popping up in Florida since 2008, only to be summarily discarded. What is new is the fact that there are absolutely no limits this year to how far Republicans will go to grandstand their message of cuts-cuts-cuts in the name of fiscal courage. TABOR is their new red badge.

But TABOR is also a proven failure, a fact pointed out last week by both the League of Women Voters and the non-partisan Washington, D.C., research and policy group Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The only state to pass a similar measure, Colorado, has been living it down since 1992; it repealed the population-plus-inflation-equals-zero-sum nightmare by 2005. Twenty other states have defeated similar measures.

So why's it so bad? If the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report is to be believed (hint: it is), the proposed state amendment effectively "suppresses public services over time and hinders the state's ability to provide its citizens with the quality of life they need and demand, even in prosperous times." By diminishing "population" and "inflation" down to constants - which they really can't be in a state that's probably going to see an 88 percent increase in poor old people during the next 20 years - TABOR devalues diversity and compassion. In Colorado, the measure resulted in the state dropping from 35th to 49th in K-12 education spending and 23rd to 48th in prenatal care. Florida, the report points out, is already at 49th in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income. We can't go much lower!

The projected cuts to education, prisons, elderly care and public health services under the TABOR scheme are just one side of the equation. On the other side are decreased municipal-bond ratings that would indirectly affect the state's ability to improve its infrastructure. Florida could be weighed down with an additional $1.75 million in debt service for every $1 billion it sells in bonds, according to the CBPP report. That sound you're hearing is doom, even if it looks like the Republicans' faces are mouthing "fiscal responsibility."

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