Rick Scott, meet the Iron Lady
As I was reading Richard Vinen’s op-ed about Margaret Thatcher from this weekend’s New York Times, I couldn’t help but think of Florida’s beleaguered governor. Rick Scott ran as a staunch Tea Partier dead set on getting public spending under control, cutting $1.35B from the state’s education budget last year. With the 2012 elections looming, however, Scott has suffered a crisis of nerves, calling for a billion in new money for education — and no new reforms of note — in an effort to improve his flagging popularity. He has turned to the kind of likability-oriented politics that Thatcher eschewed in her program to remake 1980s Britain.
Scott is not alone. After losing a ballot measure over his signature public-sector reform, Ohio’s John Kasich declared, “It’s time to pause,” despite the fact that voters largely support the education reform portions of the law. Where 2011 was defined by tough discussions about how to balance competing state-level priorities in an era of austerity — with teacher unions frequently on the losing end of those battles — many politicians gearing up for 2012 are striking a softer tone. (By contrast, the bipartisan duo of Chris Christie in New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo in New York have made progress, if haltingly, toward reform of the public sector, and both seem braced for productive work in 2012.)
Sweeping problems under the rug would be a mistake, however. The growing pressure on state budgets from health care cost inflation will not go away. Collections from property taxes are not likely to recover quickly. We need politicians who can make the case for unpopular decisions, not ones who pander to our childish desires to have our cake and eat it too.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
May 16, 2013