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Leave ‘pet projects’ locked up

It has always been a part of politics.

When approving the budget for each fiscal year, members of the Florida Legislature make sure money is set aside for their so-called “pet projects.” Many dislike this practice, but it’s often written off as one of the perks of the job.

In Florida, this year, it’s time for lawmakers to take a stand and end this archaic practice.

This move is needed not because greasing palms is immoral, but because the very survival of state education is at stake.

According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida saw its high school graduation rate drop to nearly 50 percent during the 1990s. The state’s educational system is now included in the same category as the perennially deplorable systems in Mississippi and Arkansas. Now, there is little money to help improve the state’s education.

Florida universities will suffer immensely from this year’s budget. If the current budget is approved, the university system will face more than a $115-million budget trim. This comes on the heels of another cutback just a year ago. Administrators seem unsure how they will keep some programs afloat.

Transportation concerns and the Bright Futures Scholarship Program join a litany of worthwhile programs that will be severely pinched this legislative year.

Meanwhile, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Rep. Marco Rubio wants $7 million to purchase the historic Freedom Tower in Miami, his pet project. His attitude toward the legitimacy of the project?

“If everyone else is going to get something, we should have the right to advocate for it,” Rubio said to the Times.

In other words, if everyone in the Legislature does it, then it’s OK. And, if no one tattles, each member can all get some money for his or her own projects.

The sum of all of these projects has been estimated in the neighborhood of $400 million, enough to pay the university budget cuts three times over with some change.

If the Florida Legislature truly has its constituents in mind, it’s time to put the money where it is really needed. After all, the state’s future is more important than any pet project meant for personal gain.