As the 2012 Legislative Session convenes in Tallahassee, we will be met with two basic tasks, both of which are mandated by the state constitution: creating a budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 and redistricting legislative and congressional district boundaries.
On top of the reductions we made last year, we face another year of reduced revenue estimates totaling well-over $1 billion. Balancing a budget will require another round of reductions and increasing efficiencies in state spending. These are tough but necessary exercises in order to hold the line on taxes and live within our means.
We learned in December that Florida's unemployment rate is again declining - a great sign. But a second statistic reported last month indicated that Florida's quarterly personal income growth (third quarter of 2011 over the preceding quarter) fell for the first time since the third quarter of 2009. At -0.1 percent growth, Florida ranks 46th nationally with respect to state growth. The national average was +0.1 percent.
This means that even as jobs are being created, we are still not out of the dark. Floridians have less money in their pockets and increases in their tax burden would be unacceptable. In pursuit of a strong, diversified economy, we must continue to reduce the size and scope of government and unleash Floridians' potential.
In the heat of debate, many offer "sky-is-falling" rhetoric about the impacts of budget reductions. I suspect we will hear the same in the coming weeks. Though we should not doubt the sincerity of those who raise concerns about budget cuts, we must examine their claims.
To be sure, the sky has not fallen. Schools have not closed. In fact, Education Week ranked Florida schools fifth in the nation in 2011. And at the same time the federal government received a first-ever credit rating downgrade last year, Florida's AAA rating was reaffirmed.
Has budget-cutting been a smooth process? Decisions like these do not come easy. But when we emerge from these hard economic times, we will have a state budget that is better geared to what Florida can afford and a fresh challenge to keep it that way.
If smart budgeting can serve us in tough times, it ought to be a norm in good times, too. Few elected officials like saying "no." But saying "yes" too often is exactly why Washington, D.C., is in a tailspin these days.
Over the next two months, we intend to meet the needs of those unable to care for themselves and fund projected enrollment increases in our public schools. We will fund the burgeoning Medicaid system and continue to pursue efficiencies that stretch the dollars we have. Above all, we will meet our constitutional mandate and uphold our responsibility to the Florida taxpayer.
State Rep. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in the Florida House of Representatives.