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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 24, 2009 11 years ago

My View

by: Rod Thomson

Funny how a couple of years can completely upend priorities. Sarasota County residents today are hopped up about one thing: jobs.

When we were fat and saucy and growing in numbers and wealth, many in the community felt we had the luxury to substitute simple market mechanisms of free choice with central government planning, that we blithely could institute onerous regulations protecting the most unknown of little critters, swampy land and pastures and bureaucrat’s aesthetic tastes.

Politicians felt at ease to pass intrusive laws dictating what could be built and where on private land, down to the level of what colors were allowable. The school district spent enormous sums per child in return for a mediocre education system. And despite the rocketing value of property and property tax revenues, local officials kept spending and spending like the money would never stop.

As we all know all too well, it stopped with a crash and reality has set in.

With the exception of schools — the special-interest-laden public-school system remains an insatiable, sacrosanct cow — a really expensive cow. Now, Sarasota County residents don’t worry so much about growth problems or environmental concerns or traffic. And they remain emphatically intolerant of increasing property taxes.

What they want are more businesses hiring more people. ASAP.

That is the screaming results of the county’s annual citizen survey, which was conducted by the Florida Institute of Government at USF Sarasota-Manatee and paid for by the county.

A fairly surprising 86% of Sarasotans favor giving business temporary tax breaks if a company brings jobs to the county. The wording was not clear whether it was only for bringing outside jobs in or creating new jobs from within. But one has to suppose the sentiment would be the same.

And that sentiment is to create jobs. With unemployment topping 10%, that is understandable. Forty-three percent of Sarasotans see job loss as the biggest threat to the county’s economy.

Also scoring high as threats were property taxes and government waste and inefficiency. And one-third of residents said the primary reason some companies and industries leave the community is taxes. It does not designate the type of tax, but most likely people realize that property taxes combined with high impact fees and innumerable assessments and fees incurred just for the chance to conduct business all add up to a hurdle for creating jobs.

Further, Sarasotans are adamantly opposed to any property tax increase — property taxes being the primary source of revenue for local government. The need for more regulation, environmental concerns, growth management and traffic all have dropped in priorities.

It seems as though the general desire is for an atmosphere that is friendly toward businesses, because that is the way jobs are created. Such an atmosphere must be composed of low barriers to the success of business — just by way of reminder, successful businesses are the ones that grow and add jobs. Barriers to such success include high taxes and fees and heavy regulations covering environmental issues, growth and land development.

Amazingly, 89% of residents in the survey called the quality of life in Sarasota either excellent or good — more than half of those calling it excellent — in the midst of a deep recession that has struck Florida harder than most places.

This must temper the enthusiasm of some who take the most recent University of Florida numbers showing a tiny population decline for the first time since World War II as meaning that we will stop growing. When nine out of 10 residents are positive about the quality of life in the community, you can bet it is going to remain attractive to a lot of folks up north — as soon as the economy is strong enough for them to sell their houses.

Now, if we can just remove the barriers to job growth.

Rod Thomson
is executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review and can be reached at [email protected].

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