So much for the Mayan calendar. We’re all still here. And ready to move on to another year.
So long, 2012. Bring on 2013.
As you think back on 2012, it’s not likely you can define the year in any epic way — for the nation, Florida or our Sarasota-Manatee region. Time will tell whether the court rulings that killed the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s redevelopment and expansion project were epic; certainly those decisions were epic wins for the Islandside Property Owners Coalition. But they didn’t really change the here-and-now status quo. The effects of the rulings may still be to come.
On a national level, even though we had another contentious presidential election, in the end, we kept the status quo — a Democratic president, a small Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, a big Republican majority in the U.S. House. The political-philosophical split in the nation is more even now than it was four years ago.
Economically, the recovery from the 2009 recession continued at the same anemic rate in 2012, actually worse, than in 2011.
In Florida, it was more of the same in 2012 as in 2011, albeit an economy improving slightly faster than it did in 2011.
Locally and regionally, the consensus among business owners appears that 2012 was markedly better than 2011, albeit hampered by all of the “fiscal cliff” uncertainty that paralyzes investments, purchases and business decisions.
At this writing, who knows what 2013 is going to bring?
Much of the nation’s economic direction will hinge on what our Washington “looters” ultimately determine.
But it shouldn’t take much logic to think, however, that if Americans at any level on the tax scale are required to give more of their money to the federal government (to spend or reduce our debt), you cannot reach any conclusion other than to say this will retard economic growth.
Expect a recession. When we spoke to SunTrust Chief Economist Gregory Miller last month, he said one of his primary economic indicators is always business capital spending. “It’s going the wrong way,” he said. In fact, Miller said at the time, it’s indicating recession.
Allen Carlson, chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Sun Hydraulics, said the same thing. His company manufactures hydraulic parts used in manufacturing plants, airlines and heavy machinery all over the world. Sun’s business is a leading economic indicator of the direction of future manufacturing demand.
In early November, Carlson was unequivocal about the world and national economic outlook: Demand for Sun products was contracting. Recession, he said, “is inevitable.” The economy is still cyclical, Carlson said. It goes into recession at least every five years. By that count, 2013 should mark the start of another one. (The last one went from December 2007 to June 2009.)
Add to this economic climate, the class-war rhetoric that continues to come from the president. He remains true to himself — seeking a greater expansion of the state into your lives. And in the wake of the Connecticut massacre, he also is emboldened to increase restrictions on guns (or as we would put it: take away more freedom). This will heighten the nation’s cultural tensions.
So that’s the backdrop to what we’ll be awakening on Jan. 1. It’s enough to give you a New Year’s hangover.
And it makes it a challenge to be optimistic that 2013 can be an extraordinarily positive year. But we remain hopeful.
In spite of the context, we’ll go into 2013, as we did in prior years, with wishes for what would make a better world:
• One more time: That the legal, emotional logjam among the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort combatants comes to a peaceful, compromising end. This would include a real plan (key word: real) to redevelop the property into a much-needed, thriving tennis resort worthy of the Colony name.
• That Ocean Properties, owner of the Longboat Key Club and Resort and Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort, somehow obtains expedited permits to begin expanding the Hilton — in spite of ongoing issues with the town’s zoning code and comprehensive plan that preclude development.
• That the Town Commission commits to junking the entire town zoning code and comprehensive plan and appoints a committee of qualified residents (and maybe an experienced consultant) to write in three to six months what amounts to a new “constitution” for the town for the 21st century.
• That exciting development plans emerge from existing or new owners to redevelop the three parcels east of the new Publix. They need it … badly.
• That Longboat Key voters wisely discern in March which Town Commission candidates are the best candidates to continue moving the town forward to remain one of the premier residential-resort communities in Florida.
• That the owners of Whitney Beach Shopping Plaza acknowledge that it needs more than a new roof. How about a new vision, followed by new capital?
CITY OF SARASOTA
• That city of Sarasota voters wisely discern in March which City Commission candidates are best to move the city out of stagnation and forward so it becomes more fiscally sound and economically vibrant — the economic envy of the coast.
• That the Quay property on the bayfront emerges from its legal/banking quagmire in the hands of qualified developers who can transform that property into the jewel it should become.
• That Gil Waters’ 1959 vision for downtown — walkable Main Street and a walkover bridge from Main Street to Bayfront Park over Bayfront Drive — is completed.
• That the City Commission and city staff; downtown merchants and property owners; and St. Armands Circle merchants and property owners begin discussions on how to collaborate to keep Main Street and St. Armands Circle competitive with the new University Town Center Mall at Interstate 75 and University Parkway. Crucial to this is establishing a vision for customer parking and making it happen (i.e. a sensible parking garage on State Street; reconfiguring the entrances to the garage on Palm Avenue and building a garage — and a boutique hotel — at St. Armands Circle.
• BIGGEST WISH OF ALL: That a new generation of young leaders emerges with a vision, commitment and passion to take Sarasota to new heights; that this group full-heartedly pursues a big, bold vision that embraces economic and population growth, increased residential density downtown and a goal to attract the best of the creative class, making Sarasota the envy of community, economic and quality-of-life success.
• That the Sarasota County Commission comes to its senses and does whatever it takes to give Schroeder-Manatee Ranch the assurances it needs to proceed with its Villages of Lakewood Ranch residential development on its Sarasota County property south of University Parkway.
• That the Sarasota County Commission comes to its senses and scraps the county’s 2050 plan — a major impediment to any economic growth in northeast Sarsota County.
• That the Sarasota County Commission scales back its Siesta Key beach redevelopment to include only renovating the historic pavilion and erecting a two-level beach garage.
• That Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature continue to reject “partnering” with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Obamacare and its “health exchanges.” Soon enough we’ll see: It’s another federal Ponzi scheme perpetrated on taxpayers.
• That Florida lawmakers quit governing in the margins with Florida’s public schools and go rogue and bold — convert all of K-12 funding to a G.I. bill voucher system, giving every student a voucher or cash to be spent on any accredited school of his choice, just as was done with G.I. bill funding for veterans after World War II up through today. Make all of the schools compete.
• That the Legislature gets even bolder and eliminates the Florida Education Finance Program (a Legislature-imposed local millage rate for schools) and replaces this property tax with a higher, broader sales tax. This is complicated, but it would make Florida’s economy boom.
• That the Legislature at least: 1) Eliminates the corporate income altogether; and 2) Eliminates the tangible personal property tax. Memo to everyone: Businesses don’t pay taxes; they pass them on to consumers. Although Florida voters rejected the constitutional amendment eliminating the tangible tax, lawmakers could do so legislatively. Eliminating these two taxes would enhance Florida’s business climate immensely and help the state reduce its still-high unemployment rate.
OUR WISH AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL: THAT THE TIDE TURNS
In 1979, Milton and Rose Friedman authored “Free to Choose,” a great book that showed the deleterious effects on individual freedom of the path the United States was on at the time — heading deeper and faster toward Fabian socialism and more New Deal liberalism.
“Will our golden age come to an end in a relapse into the tyranny and misery that has always been, and remains today, the state of most of mankind?” they wrote. “Or shall we have the wisdom, the foresight, and the courage to change our course, to learn from experience and to benefit from a ‘rebirth of freedom’?
When they wrote this, the Friedmans believed the tide was turning for the better. That was the title of their last chapter. And it did.
But what would the Friedmans say today? The tide has turned back again, shifting at the federal level toward ever larger government and the unbridled mortgaging of future generations.
Our wish for the U.S. in 2013 is the rebirth of the fundamental principles born in 1787 in Philadelphia — an educational movement that sweeps the country, from classroom to classroom, from dinner table to dinner table.
Rescuing the future from our current path will require teaching the next generations what they do not get in our classrooms today — the detailed story of the American Revolution, how and why the Constitution was constructed and how free-market capitalism differs from economic statism.
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