As the spring term was winding down here at UF and at other institutions of higher learning around the state, so too was the 2008 legislative session in Tallahassee. Last week, the Florida Legislature closed shop after three months of supposedly working toward solutions to the many serious problems facing our state.
But as we contemplate the damage that the state's largest budget reduction in history-$4 billion-is likely to cause, the only recourse we have is to shake our heads in frustration.
The most immediate outcome of the Legislature's failure to adequately fund the state's colleges and universities in its $66 billion budget was the news from UF President Bernie Machen that UF will be forced to slash its budget by $47 million. That $47 million cut equates to a 6 percent reduction in funding for every college and administrative unit university-wide.
Proposed casualties of UF's budget reduction plan range from non-tenured professors and administrative staff to selected degree programs.
And while Machen has borne the brunt of the criticism for his budget-reduction plan from affected faculty and students, he can hardly be blamed for these detrimental measures.
To paraphrase President Harry S. Truman, the buck stops with the lawmakers in Tallahassee. It's their inadequate budget that has forced Machen into these spending cuts.
This fact is lost on our leaders in Tallahassee, however, who seem to be living in a parallel universe.
"What we are seeing here is just short of a miracle."
That's how state Sen. Steve Oelrich characterized the just finished session.
Never to be outdone when it comes delusions of grandeur, Gov. Charlie Crist had gushing praise for the Legislature's performance during this year's session, announcing that he was "so grateful to this Legislature for what they have done."
As we ruminate about the 2008 legislative session, we find that the term "abysmal failure" is a more apt description of the shenanigans that went on in Tallahassee these past few months. As we face the detrimental effects of a slowing economy, our do-nothing legislature focused its attention on the silly and the trivial.
Instead of ensuring and enhancing the quality of our education system, providing affordable health care options for the almost four million uninsured Floridians or overhauling the state's inequitable tax code, our lawmakers focused on such pressing issues as the Truck Nutz prohibition, the endorsement of religious license plates and the teaching of creationism in public schools, to name a few.
Thankfully, none of the above made it to the governor's desk for his signature, but the very fact that such asinine topics were even debated at all sums up the sheer stupidity of this past session.
Rather than owning up to their collective failure, lawmakers have patted themselves on the back for refusing to raise taxes.
Obviously, no one likes to pay taxes. And the governor and members of the Legislature are sure to score political points for intransigence on this issue. However, the principles of economics counterintuitively suggest that this is the wrong move.
In times of economic stagnation, cutting government spending has the effect of deepening or accelerating recession. According to economist David Denslow, director of UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, for every dollar of spending that the Legislature cuts, the state loses $1.50 in economic activity.
In other words, our lawmakers' ideological limitations are increasing - not aleviating - the state's economic woes while simultaneously undermining Florida's education system.