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Where's Jeb on helping Florida grow smarter?


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From Orlando Sentinel 1/19/05

So much potential, so little time.

Jeb Bush only has two years left in his second term. His latest budget proposal spells out his priorities for Florida -- on spending. It's what you would expect from a tax-slashing Republican who has made education reform his priority from Day One. More money for public schools, more tax cuts for the richest Floridians, a few pennies in sales-tax amnesty for the little people. Same old stuff.

Of course, the governor is proposing a mammoth Medicaid overhaul, too. Until the Legislature figures out the devilish details, and the feds sign off on any plan, it's anyone's guess if it will help or hurt Floridians.

But there's one issue not in the budget that carries huge implications for Florida's future, and everybody knows what needs to happen. It's as old as the first stinky swamp sold as prime real estate back in the "good old days" of speculators run amok. Florida has paid dearly for a century of mismanaged growth, and the bill, in the billions of dollars, has been overdue for a long time.

We've got a multitude of leeching old septic tanks and slick oil runoff from millions of cars polluting our rivers and lakes. Cities and counties continue their water wars as they fight over the state's dwindling supplies in the underground aquifer, seeking to feed their thirst for new development. Too many of our children remain in crowded classrooms because local governments keep grubbing for growth in all the wrong places, and the Legislature winks along.

When Bush ran for re-election, he admitted one of his biggest challenges was protecting Florida's drinking-water supplies. That same year, he told the Sentinel's editorial board that he wanted to come up with a growth-management plan to take into account the real costs of growth. He vowed to find a "fair" way for local governments to steer new development to the most cost-efficient areas.

He even tapped former Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez to oversee a task force that would look at ways local governments could avoid costly sprawl. Martinez showed some guts as chairman by turning down developers' requests to increase zoning densities for more homes in areas with packed schools, but when you come right down to it, the state growth commission's report only took baby steps.

Nothing visionary came of it. We're still waiting for Jeb to devise a "fair" formula so that developers don't have any incentive to build on cheap land miles away from schools, sewers and other necessities.

So here we are, six years into an administration willing to expend its political capital on huge tax breaks. They go disproportionately to the richest in a state that's overly dependent on cheap labor.

Almost $11 billion in tax cuts have come during Jeb's tenure, and still there is no real handle on the state's most vexing problem: costly mismanaged growth that threatens to destroy what makes Florida so special.

I've said it before. Jeb's a smart guy. He surely hasn't let legislators roll over him on the budget. He's wielded his veto pen many a time.

Yet on managing growth, he runs and takes cover. What does he fear? Alienating his developer pals? He was, after all, one of them before getting into public office.

The governor has had four years to come up with the definition of "fair." Surely, he's figured it out by now.

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I can't argue with anyone on JEB's failure with growth issues. He obviously doesn't care one way or the other about sprawl and its negative impacts. (Of course the fact that he lives up in the panhandle, and doesn't have to deal with the day-to-day crap going on in the major city exurbs, might explain that.)

But frankly, I have no time for the quasi-socialist drivel also mentioned in that article. If you think tax cut's and cost cutting measures are some evil Republican oppression that only benefit the "wealthy", move to Rhode Island and/or Massachusetts. Seriously. I did for 4 years.

The urbanism is great, no doubt about it, but the taxes are so high and the government overspending is so egregious and corrupt that it produces a quality of life much lower than any of Florida's sprawl. If you live up there and pay any attention to local politics, you will quickly realize that their taxes and big government policies negatively impact the middle and working classes in a huge way. If you hate Florida's low tax policy, consider moving to a state with state income tax, equivalent sales tax, higher property tax (and without homestead exemptions), heavy user fees, and mountains upon mountains of read tape and corrupt officials.

Just look at Providence. Despite having a self-described "housing crisis" (and rents nearly double or triple that of Jax) and tons of vacant city-owned downtown land ... they haven't had a new residential highrise (or midrise) built in the better part of a decade. Why? Extreme red tape, taxes, NIMBY's (who are very powerful due to "machine" style politics), corrupt officials, taxes and taxes have kept them from being built.

I know growth management is very important, but there are political issues higher on the totem pole.

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Rhode Island and Massachusetts are very different on this issue. I live in Massachusetts and it is by far the best state government in the country. Rhode Island has a history of corrupt government, and recently, so does Florida. However, in my experience, the quality of life is far greater in the Northeast, even Providence, than anywhere in Florida. I love Florida, and it has its advantages, but those advantages are purely geographical things.

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Unfortunately, you'll have to wait till Jeb's term runs out before we will be able to seriously address the State's growth issues.  Over the last couple of years, Jeb has made it pretty clear, that he's only in this for the benefit on him and his political contributors.


Lets just hope someone other than Janet Reno runs against him next time.

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Just to throw in here real quick-like, I'm with Capital on this one. The Urban environment DOES NOT have to mean higher taxes and government giveaways...

On a related note, I feel city incentives are OK (not great) to get a local downtown economy rolling, but there definitely needs to be a cut-off point, defined before any incentive check is ever given...otherwise it does lead to higher taxes for the simple reason of GIVING money to businesses to relocate.

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