With his ear trained on antitax groups, maybe House Speaker Marco Rubio just couldn't hear the citizens who nearly forced an antigrowth amendment to the ballot this fall. But if he really thinks Florida would be better off with no development controls and no state growth agency, he will become the poster child for Hometown Democracy.
Back in January, at a business editors' summit, Rubio went so far as to suggest he might try to abolish the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees growth-management laws. "Regulatory compliance," he was quoted as telling the group, "is a tax."
If regulatory compliance is a tax, then the construction industry clearly has been exempted. Look around: clogged highways, overflowing landfills, water shortages, condo towers. The 1985 Growth Management Act that developers warned would lead to widespread building moratoriums has instead served as little more than a speed bump.
The Hometown Democracy group is so fed up it wants to take some planning decisions out of the hands of city and county officials and put them to voters, and it missed the ballot this time by so few signatures that the 2010 ballot seems all but certain. The amendment's referendum requirement would be unwieldly, but is arguably less radical than Rubio's desire to abolish DCA altogether.
Community Affairs Secretary Thomas Pelham is doing his best to find a middle ground in this increasingly polarized debate. He has found some support in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, which is examining a bill that would take aim at one of the law's clear abuses. Cities and counties were required to adopt growth blueprints, but they have turned around and changed those plans so often — roughly 12,000 times last year — as to make them meaningless. The point of the plan was to guide development, not merely to serve as a starting point.
The limit on plan changes is one of several ideas Pelham has introduced in an attempt to address legitimate concerns about how growth laws have been abused. But, almost halfway through the session, Rubio's House has shown little interest.
Some House members are parroting the line offered by development lobbyists, saying the state can't clamp down during a weak economy. But this may be a particularly opportune time to bring more certainty to growth regulations. The market slump, not growth regulation, is what has slowed new construction. This pause, as demand catches up with supply, offers a chance to chart an orderly course on future development.
Pelham simply wants to restore some balance to growth management, in part by preventing cities and counties and developers from constantly changing their blueprints. There is nothing radical about that, which is why he deserves a fair hearing in both legislative chambers.