Commentary: Crist should leave fund alone

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The temptation to tap into the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund to help offset a projected $2.3 billion shortfall in budget revenues is strong – but Gov. Crist and state lawmakers should resist the urge. Raiding the fund would be stealing from Florida's elderly, and from our children's future.

Desperation can make even normally reasonable people do nonsensical things, and the mere fact that Gov. Crist and state lawmakers are considering borrowing from the fund is evidence of their clouded judgment. Money from the fund is invested largely in long-term securities that have lost nearly half their $2.1 billion value since June. Borrowing from the fund at this point, when the fund's assets are at record-low values, would eliminate the fund's chances for a full recovery.

Besides that, Rhea Chiles – the former governor's 78-year-old widow – doesn't want the state to take any more of the fund's assets. In the spring, Ms. Chiles had acquiesced to Gov. Crist's impassioned plea to borrow up to $1 billion from the fund to help balance the state budget. As the state and national economies worsened, though, Ms. Chiles changed her mind. She declined an invitation from Gov. Crist to honor her at the governor's mansion in June, citing the "intolerable prospect" of having to cut even more from services to children and the elderly.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush established the fund in 1999 with about 10 percent of the $11.2 billion lawsuit settlement with Big Tobacco companies that former Gov. Chiles had pushed through the Legislature. The endowment fund operates as an annuity, using interest earned from investments to pay for programs and services that help children and senior citizens.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.