Floridians are in a world of hurt financially: troubled housing markets, soaring food prices, gas at $4 a gallon and rising, to name just a few of the problems. With that in mind, we asked for some here-and-now solutions from several smart people who know how government works or have economic or policy experience. Are there concrete steps that either the state government or some other entity with influence across the state could or should take to help out Floridians between now and year's end? Here are their replies, edited and condensed for space.
— Jim Verhulst, Perspective editor
More ideas on Page 4P from a historian, an economist, the CEO of AutoNation, the head of Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Jump in the pool
and share a ride
Glenn Robertson was budget director for former Govs. Bob Graham and Bob Martinez. His firm, Glenn W. Robertson and Associates, provides budget, policy and planning services.
• City and county governments could provide an accessible and user-friendly "Jump in the Pool!" Web site to help people carpool. The site could connect people who live and/or work in similar areas of town. The site could suggest a reasonable amount that each passenger pays to offset the driver's gas bills and inconvenience, and is less than the passengers would pay if they drove their own car.
• State and local governments could allow more "pay plans" for government payments. This would at least allow people to extend payments over time.
• A government-sponsored "Save Me Some Money" Web site (message board) could allow citizens to contribute and access ideas that can help cut costs or save money in many different areas (e.g. food costs, energy usage, home maintenance, and car maintenance and operation).
• A government "Help-A-Neighbor-In-Need" Web site could be established where people needing help can request it from others in the community.
• Local governments could sponsor "Community Gardens" in various areas of cities and counties where especially lower-income families could access fresh vegetables that may be getting sacrificed to pay for gas and other higher-cost necessities.
• Local governments could more actively promote visiting homes in their area to evaluate energy-saving possibilities and maybe offer assistance to lower-income families if energy use and expense can be cut.
• In a special session, the Legislature could authorize grants to local governments to do any or all of these things from nonrecurring funds.
• State and local governments could actively introduce many different initiatives to save gas and energy as a model to citizens. Show some political leadership.
Both state and local governments are an extension of "us." I hope that leaders at all levels will begin asking and encouraging "us" to sacrifice, conserve and find ways to help us help ourselves, our communities and Florida. Our leaders should be challenging us to be creative and to act.
In politics, it is likely that no good deed goes unpunished in some way. Doing anything usually helps some and causes disadvantages or losses to others. Politicians do not like to offend anyone, especially in an election year like 2008. Getting out front on issues may be a risk, but it may be time to be risky. Whatever the feds do, don't
Donna Arduin served as budget director for Gov. Jeb Bush as well as for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She is president of the consulting firm Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics LLC.
The best short-term stimuli are good long-term policies. Businesses and homeowners invest for a long-term horizon, and know that long-term policies are going to affect their bottom lines. We need fiscal policies that, once again, attract jobs and wealth to Florida, because we have recently begun to lose out to other states.
• Eliminate property taxes as a source of local government funding and replace them with consumption taxes. When Floridians are in a world of financial hurt, we cut back on our spending. Government should have to cut back when taxpayers have to! Amendment 5 on the November ballot, if it passes, will eliminate about 25 percent of Floridians' property taxes.
• Make government smaller.
• Impose government spending limitations. There are a lot of things government should stop doing. Recent budget cuts by state and local governments are much more the result of the past few years' overspending by government than because of economic conditions. Our beautiful state attracted jobs and retirees even when the cost of living here was higher than other states, but we have recently priced ourselves out of the market.
• Follow the example of the federal government — well, ever — and pass a so-called stimulus package that sends checks to people, especially to people who did not pay the taxes in the first place. There is a technical term for sending money, collected from taxpayers, to nontaxpayers: It is called welfare.
• Legislate temporary gas tax cuts, or any similar gimmick. Gas tax cuts would subsidize the oil industry and not help bring about any of the needed "substitution effects" that high gas prices cause, like buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and using mass transit more. Euro-tourists, Florida's on sale
Florida's chief financial officer Alex Sink suggested several ideas that address what she called the "pain points" for Floridians, beginning with the rising cost of gasoline.
• You've got to look at things like telecommuting. A lot of people are working from home full-time now. The four-day, 10-hours-a-day workweek idea could be appropriate for some people. The carpooling idea.
• Don't try reducing gasoline taxes. "Every time that's been tried, the gas companies just take it for themselves. That leaves us without the revenue we need for our infrastructure. So some people are losing their jobs."
• Have the state expedite construction projects as a way of generating more jobs, as Florida did after 9/11. "Expediting public works policies — those are the jobs that have been lost in the economy because of the slowdown in home-building activity." Public school construction should be accelerated in high-growth areas such as Pasco and Hernando counties.
• The state should commit more money to the MySafeFloridaHome inspection program to harden homes against hurricanes. All of the appropriated money has been committed for about 400,000 applicants for wind inspections first-come, first-served. The money will dry up by August, and the inspection program results in lower homeowner insurance premiums, saving Floridians money while also keeping the inspectors at work.
• On foreclosures, the state should explore a program to help people at risk of losing their homes by finding ways that the trial bar can better augment legal aid programs that provide assistance. She got the idea from the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University and said the need for such aid is increasing because "there's a big bulge coming" when lenders reset adjustable rate mortgages in August and September.
• The state needs to do all it can to promote tourism, especially in Europe, where the dollar is weak. "Florida's on sale. It's cheap to come here." Give drivers a toll holiday
Sean M. Snaith is the director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida.
Here are a few possibilities that could ease some consumer pain, but are really tantamount to rubbing Aspercreme on a broken leg.
• Have all expressway/toll road officials provide periodic toll holidays, one weekday a week where tolls would be suspended or at least reduced by 50 percent.
• The state government could allow nonessential (yeah, I know all of us state employees fall into that category) workers to telecommute one day per week. It would save money on gas and tolls and would also be a "green" policy, which has benefits for the environment. The state could also encourage private business to follow suit.
• For regional transportation, authorities should be encouraged to add options to existing public transit. These could include vans or coaches that leave from predetermined locations each morning where consumers could park and ride.
• Encourage carpooling via High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that could also offer reduced tolls for vehicles with three or more occupants. This again has both environmental as well as economic benefits. Seek the federal dollars for which Florida is eligible
Dominic M. Calabro is president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch.
• On transportation, counties and cities, as well as the state, could cooperate to develop plans to allow carpoolers to have expedited lanes. Develop incentives for alternative working arrangements — such as job-sharing, four-day workweeks or telecommuting — to reduce transportation costs for many Floridians.
• On energy, state and local governments can suggest and promote ways that residents and commercial property owners can use scientific techniques to reduce energy costs. The state (and/or local governments) could provide energy audits to help residents reduce their energy consumption and cost. Local governments or the state could provide incentives to reduce energy consumption, such as the use of low-flow showerheads.
• On tourism, state officials could work with the congressional delegation to encourage the Transportation Safety Administration to make sure Florida and the United States make international tourists feel welcome while traveling to and from the United States. International tourism is important to Florida's economy, and ensuring that tourists are treated as welcome guests would help promote tourism in the state. The Transportation Safety Administration has worked with Disney on implementing such an active campaign, and we would encourage state officials to follow up with the results of that collaboration and promote its further implementation/application. Additionally, the state could provide Visit Florida with the flexibility to reinvest tourism marketing dollars appropriated for advertising into international tourism marketing, if Visit Florida determines that such a move would be financially/economically advantageous given the current situation with international tourists compared to domestic tourists.
• On government costs, local governments can begin to cut out expensive perks and benefits for high-paid employees, such as out-of-state travel for conferences and conventions. Curtailing questionable expenses would be a symbolic and substantive gesture. Additionally, state agencies and the governor's office (and legislative committees) should continue to examine agency budgets to eliminate any and all unnecessary spending and truly prioritize to concentrate on the core functions of government that will most benefit the taxpayers.
• Florida TaxWatch recommends that the state work diligently to collect federal revenues for which it is eligible, but has not applied. These monies do not require additional spending or commitment by the state. Because agencies will not necessarily use the services of vendors to collect these revenues, TaxWatch recommends that they be required by the governor or the Legislature to do so as appropriate. To date, the state's revenue maximization contract has recovered $140-million and benefitted from $61-million in cost avoidances. Currently, there is between $19-million and $24-million that have been identified for recovery from the federal government, for which $5-million has been filed and is awaiting federal approval and receipt. Release transport trust fund money
Raymond Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.
• The Legislature should convene a special session to authorize an immediate release of funds from the state transportation trust fund, which currently has assets approaching $1-billion. Reserving this vast amount of money for right-of-way acquisitions and bridge construction is an outmoded policy that sustains long-standing political arrangements of dubious merit, perpetuating an environmentally problematic reliance on automobile travel. At a time when critical social and educational services are being neglected, most of this money should be transferred to state agencies related to social services and health care. Taking care of Floridians in dire need of social services should be our highest priority.
• The Legislature should eliminate all sales-tax exemptions that benefit corporations and high-income individuals. Eliminating these exemptions would raise a significant amount of revenue that could be used for social services, health care, job-training programs and other essential services.
• Monies collected by Florida counties under the auspices of the state tourist development tax should be redirected to support the augmentation of mass-transit bus systems. Some of the funds could be directed to agencies serving the homeless and other especially needy citizens. There's no quick fix
Mike Jackson is chairman and chief executive officer of AutoNation, America's largest auto retailer, which sells more than 550,000 vehicles a year. He is a leading auto industry spokesperson on energy and economy issues.
The unfortunate reality of our current economic situation is that there is no quick fix.
Long-term, systemic problems require strategic solutions and the understanding that real change takes years, not weeks or months.
Ultimately, what we start today will not likely bear fruit until our current recession has already passed us by. But the penalty for inaction now — or for favoring feel-good measures over more prudent, pragmatic approaches — will make that eventual recovery shallower and slower than it needs to be. Call a high-tech summit
Susan Story is chairwoman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and president and chief executive officer of Gulf Power.
Although Florida's economy is in significant transition, long-term growth is expected and a few steps should be considered to speed up the transition, such as:
• The Legislature and governor could convene an economic summit to identify and implement immediate investments in Florida's innovation industry. The summit could consider how best to grow high-tech, high-wage industries with the $2-billion expected return from this year's economic stimulus package. The package was recently signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist at the New York Stock Exchange. California created 120,000 jobs using a similar program in one year.
• Infuse economic development dollars into Centers of Excellence to position Florida as the clean technology research and commercialization capital of the world. This, combined with landing a world-class clean technology firm in Florida, would be a great start to quickly creating additional high-paying jobs.
• Regional authorities should assess mass-transit routes and alternatives to accommodate increased traffic and usage based on increased transportation participation. Accommodating new riders now can build customers for the long term. Consider waiving bus/metro fees to entice new riders and partner with employers to underwrite passes. This is especially timely with gas prices so high.
• Make economic growth and prosperity the issue in the upcoming elections. It is more important than ever to elect leaders at all levels of government that understand and are committed to economic development and immediate and sustainable job creation. Putting people to work helps address many other economic issues and challenges.
• Florida can and should aggressively support our ports and the businesses that serve them and add value to goods coming into and out of the state. Increased trade and global markets provide an immediate way to add jobs and economic activity.
• And, finally, we need a comprehensive policy on education — pre-K through post-secondary — that provides a highly qualified talent pool in order to grow the right kind of jobs in the state. Keep taxpayers' dollars in their pockets
Mark Wilson is president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Florida's economy is never going back to a low-cost, low-pay state. Although long-term economic transition is well under way, a few short-term stimulus efforts could make a big difference.
• Keep taxpayers' dollars in their pockets by focusing on the core functions of government and eliminating spending that goes outside of these core functions.
• Put state transportation projects on the fast track and invest in additional state and local projects that position regions for smart growth.
• Convene a special legislative session to streamline Florida's broken permitting process. Many projects that create jobs are held up or halted due to irrational and conflicting permitting procedures.
• Invest contingency fees from plaintiff trial lawyers from punitive damage awards into a fund to provide health care for children of working parents, work force training and uncompensated health care.