Florida’s economic development system has long been a bust, plagued by excessive bureaucracy, ponderously slow and inefficient with multiple state departments involved.
Gov. Rick Scott set out to fix it and largely did so with the substantial cooperation of Republican legislators who tried to last year but had the effort vetoed by a wet-finger governor. The right man was needed in the governor’s mansion.
First, and with the support of most Democrats in the Legislature, a unified jobs agency was created by rolling into one the Agency for Workforce Innovation, Enterprise Florida, the Florida Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, Visit Florida and remnants of the ponderous Department of Community Affairs, which mercifully disappears.
The new agency, called the Department of Economic Opportunity, will have broad powers to respond to individual and industry opportunities for the state, plus access to a pot of more than $400 million that can be used for targeted industries. If government must be involved with economic development, rather than simply creating an unsurpassed environment friendly to all job-creating businesses, at least it should be streamlined, efficient and as effective as possible. Job done.
The state’s 1985 Growth Management Act is the holy grail for environmentalists and anti-growthers intent on keeping Florida expensive and unattractive. The law made development onerous and added layers of cost. It still happened, of course, when economic times were good, because Florida has other things going for it — beaches, sunshine, no income tax.
In bad times, the law was an anchor around the neck of a drowning economy. And at all times, it added great expenses that became part of the formula for making housing expensive while giving unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats veto powers over the democratic decisions of local elected officials. It was long overdue for an overhaul.
A main element of undoing its worst part was to vacate the state oversight authority, and allow local officials to have the final say in major development decisions. The change is hardly radical. Only five other states have state-level review of local development decisions, but none of those has powers to the degree Florida did. Surely this is just common sense to most readers, but not to people who like centralized governmental administration for life’s decisions.
The second feature opponents try to scare you with is that the new law eliminates concurrency — the rule requiring roads and other infrastructure to be in place before development starts. But it does not. It eliminates the state-mandate for concurrency. Any city or county can still require it, or some level of it. If local residents do not like the decisions, they can boot commissioners.
These changes and the rest in the box with this editorial will help the state’s recovery and provide private sector jobs for Floridians in a far more permanent sense than, say, taxpayer-funded high-speed rail would have.
Cutting the Tallahassee red tape
Changes to the state’s growth management law mean local communities gain more local control and a path back to economic vibrancy. Here are some major changes:
• Makes optional concurrency requirements for new developments for transportation, schools and parks, rather than mandated by the state;
• Expedites the comprehensive-plan amendment process, deletes the requirement that plans meet financial feasibility requirements and allows amendments every year;
• Eliminates many state requirements and specifications for optional elements in a comprehensive plan but allows communities to include optional portions;
• Reduces requirements for evaluations and appraisals, which add to the costs of a project and make it more expensive in the end for buyers;
• Reorganizes several agencies into one controlled by the governor’s office to make Florida’s economic development office more flexible, efficient and lightening quick.