Brace yourselves for Floridation

Posted: Dec 15, 2000 12:00 AM
One of my favorite bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, recently penned an ode to "Californication." The term refers to the spread of the Golden State's worst attributes: smog, strip malls, drive-bys, and celebrity worship. "It's understood that Hollywood sells Californication," the Chili Peppers sing. Even "tidal waves couldn't save the world from Californication." Not all of California's exports have been negative. The state led the nation in reforming welfare, stemming illegal immigration, and repealing racial preferences. This year, however, California's influence in the political realm was eclipsed by another sunny state. Put on your shades, pull out your wallets, and prepare for Floridation. Now that the election is finally over, we can look forward to four long years of federal pandering to the 27th state's special interests: the elderly, the sugar industry, citrus growers, disaster aid recipients, and Disney. This is what the Beltway big talkers mean when they pontificate about "healing wounds" and "reaching across the aisle" to "get things done." They mean reaching into our pockets to grow government, fork out the pork, and do whatever it takes to firmly secure Florida's electors in 2004. President-elect George W. Bush hasn't even twirled around in his Oval Office chair yet, and he has already completely abandoned conservative principles in favor of bipartisan kissy-face politics. During the campaign, he purported to distinguish himself from big-spending Al Gore with a more fiscally responsible Medicare reform plan. But among his first pledges this week was a universal government benefit that will cheer Democrat retirees from Pensacola to Palm Beach: "Together we will strengthen Medicare and offer prescription drug coverage to all of our seniors." All seniors. Regardless of need or desire. Regardless of the strain on our near-bankrupt entitlement system and the burden on younger workers. If this is the kind of "mending" we're in for, someone rip off the Band-Aid and pour rubbing alcohol on the wound quick. Count on Bush the Bipartisan Healer to continue the Clinton administration's indulgence of Florida's sugar industry. Among the members of W.'s $100,000 soft-money donor club are Wayne Berman, a former G.H.W. Bush administration official who lobbies for Flo-Sun Sugar, and Jose Fanjul, head of Flo-Sun Sugar. Fanjul is a Cuban-born sugar baron whose brother Alfy was a key Clinton fund-raiser. In return, the Fanjuls and their competitors in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Hawaii have received a mother lode of corporate welfare. Federal price supports, loans, import quotas, buyouts, and other goodies add an estimated $1.4 billion to consumers' bills. This sweet protectionist scheme keeps the domestic price of sugar 50 percent above the world market price and wreaks environmental havoc on the Everglades -- another bottomless swamp for billions of wasted tax dollars. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute noted: "The loan program for a small handful of very wealthy Florida sugar plantation owners is more generous than ever." Big citrus firms will also undoubtedly get a taste of Bush's Florida-friendly largesse. Citrus and lime growers from the Sunshine State received nearly $60 million in federal payments this year. We ain't seen nothing yet. W., mindful of his shaky mandate (and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush's, as well), can be counted on to preserve the citrus loan program -- if not double or triple the current payments. The Clinton administration was infamous for its abuse of disaster aid declarations for political gain in battleground states. The Federal Emergency Management Agency set records in 1992 and 1996 for disaster designations; over the last decade, Florida has received 20 percent of all federal disaster aid. Those hoping to curtail bogus disaster spending can kiss their dreams of smaller government goodbye. When it rains, President-elect Bush's FEMA will pour. Last but not least, there's Disney, the entertainment conglomerate that has received technology subsidies to make fancier fireworks displays at its Orlando theme park and has lobbied for federal tourism aid to advertise overseas. In the era of Floridation, there will be no end to these Goofy handouts. No matter who sits in the White House, true fiscal conservatism is but a fairy tale.