By Mark Wilson
Filling “budget gaps” seems to be a recurring theme for our legislature. Legislators are faced with difficult decisions when it comes to balancing Florida’s budget, and a frequent option is a short-term fix: “Rob Peter to pay Paul.”
In fact, for the last few years the Florida Legislature has balanced the budget by taking money from the State Transportation Trust Fund (STTF) and putting it into the general fund. It’s a short-sighted solution with dire consequences. The trust fund is made up of state fuel taxes, motor vehicle fees, tolls and federal grants, and was designed to fund critical road building projects.
And this year is no different. Faced with a difficult economic situation including a high foreclosure rate, unprecedented unemployment numbers and increasing costs on just about everything, we need a way to bring relief to Floridians. And unlike the federal government, Florida legislators have a constitutional requirement to provide a balanced budget every year.
However, the focus must be on saving and creating jobs to get our economy back on track. Raiding the Transportation Trust Fund would have the opposite effect, causing a loss of thousands of jobs.
Transportation is the backbone of Florida’s economy; it is estimated that every $1 invested in transportation projects yields $5.50 in positive economic activity. In the past few decades, Florida has barely managed to maintain its existing transportation infrastructure and has not substantially invested in new infrastructure to aid badly needed capacity. This must change, and we can’t accomplish this by taking money from the STTF. Those dollars must be spent exclusively on job-creating transportation infrastructure.
Thankfully the Senate is standing firm on preserving the STTF—as it is intended. It understands the significant number of jobs at stake.
Conversely, the House of Representatives’ current budget would be a potential “jobs killer” for thousand of Floridians. The Florida House of Representatives has voted to raid the State Transportation Trust Fund.
Just over 20 years ago, Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) was financially strapped and as a result stopped all road construction projects. Last year, the Legislature took $120 million from the Transportation Trust Fund, and we cannot let this happen again.
Moving money from the STTF to the state’s general revenue fund will not only put a screeching halt to transportation projects but it could also eliminate thousands of current transportation jobs. At a time when we need to be creating jobs, lawmakers should avoid making moves to eliminate them.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce is working in support of investments for a transportation system that keeps pace with our growing population and continues to support our diverse economy. It is now more important than ever to keep state dollars invested where they were intended to go—job-producing transportation projects. We cannot afford to move backward; we must preserve these funds and move Florida’s economy forward.
Mark Wilson is the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at [email protected].