Budget crises are not calls for sales tax holidays

The Florida legislature sent Gov. Charlie Crist a proposal Wednesday to give Florida a 10-day break from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. But before Crist signs on the dotted line, he might want to take the state’s financial matters into consideration.

According to the Associated Press, the break in sales tax is expected to cost up to $40 million in lost revenue. The break, from Aug. 4-13, would eliminate sales tax on books, clothes, wallets, shoes and bags under $50. School supplies costing $10 or less would also be tax-free.

But the state can’t really afford that $40 million loss right now. Due to much-needed property tax legislation, counties around the state are in such dire financial straits they are considering rolling back essential emergency services such as law enforcement and medical services. The State University System is also in trouble: Florida’s universities need money that the state doesn’t have.

In today’s Oracle, Managing Editor John Calkins details a new education bill the Florida Senate will discuss when it reconvenes in April. The University of South Florida alone could end up charging 30 percent more a year in only two years. Crist, however, “has indicated he is opposed to increasing the cost of going to college, whether it be a fee or a tuition increase,” according to the Gainesville Sun.

In other words, it’s likely Crist won’t sign the bill, no matter how right SUS Chancellor Mark Rosenberg is when he says “universities have been (financially) starved for too long.” Ralph Wilcox, USF’s vice provost of Academic Affairs, can’t make Crist sign the bill either, no matter how right he may be that “$3,500 (in tuition) a year to provide a world-class education at a top-tier research university just doesn’t work.”

Crist’s contention, however, seems to be that $3,500 a year in tuition can work, given statements regarding his opposition to increases in college costs. If Crist takes that stance and vetos the tuition increase, however, the reality of the situation dictates that additional funds will be needed. The $40 million the state will lose in revenue to an arbitrary tax holiday would be a good start. That $40 million could be used to set up need-based programs at universities or given to universities to aid financial crises. It could be used for a lot of things: $40 million isn’t chump change, and it’s too much money to be lost on a tax holiday when the state as a whole is, quite frankly, facing a budgetary crisis.