People On Foot

Orlando Sentinel Editorial: Jacobs’ focus on the future is welcome

Two very different visions of leadership were on display in Tallahassee and Orange County this past month. It boils down to the difference between focusing on the next election and the next generation.
A special session of the Florida Legislature belatedly produced a $78 billion state budget that featured a package of tax cuts worth $429 million. The centerpiece of the package, a 1.73 percentage-point reduction in taxes on cellphone and cable bills, is projected to return about $20 a year to the average Floridian.

After signing the budget, Gov. Rick Scott barnstormed the state on a “tax-cut victory tour.” Count on reruns if rumors about his plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2018 turn out to be true.

Meanwhile, Orange Mayor Teresa Jacobs unveiled a proposal to spend $300 million on a series of capital projects — more than half for roads, but also parks, pedestrian-safety improvements, fire stations and affordable housing. Jacobs’ plan wouldn’t raise taxes, but rather than cut them, she’d dedicate a share of current revenues for long-term investments to keep pace with the county’s growth and maintain its quality of life.
In another sharp contrast with state leaders’ approach, Jacobs’ plan contemplates financing some of its construction projects by selling bonds. Interest rates remain historically low, and the leading financial analysts recently upgraded Orange County’s credit rating, which would further reduce the county’s cost of borrowing.

But in Tallahassee, a proposal from Florida House leaders to take advantage of low interest rates to sell bonds to buy environmentally valuable land was quashed by Senate leaders. “B-O-N-D is a four-letter word,” said Alan Hays, the Umatilla Republican who is the Senate’s top agriculture and environment budget writer.

While governments at all levels should be selective when borrowing, critical long-term investments — whether construction projects to keep up with growth or land buys to guard environmentally sensitive acreage against encroaching development — are worth considering. The cost of construction and land aren’t likely to go down in the future. And though future generations will inherit the burden of repaying the debt, they’ll reap the benefits of the investment, too.

There are some long-term investments in the state budget — $78 billion is a big pot to draw from — but many weren’t included or didn’t survive Scott’s veto, including a downtown Orlando campus for the University of Central Florida and an advanced manufacturing center in Kissimmee.

Jacobs’ proposal deserves support from county commissioners, even though they’d get a more immediate political boost from cutting taxes and letting their successors worry how to catch up on long-term investments. That’d be the Tallahassee approach. Thank goodness state leaders aren’t calling the shots in Orange County.

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

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