From the beginning, Senate Bill 360 — the 2009 Legislature's assault on Florida's growth management laws — was a rash deal. Cooked up by Republican leaders in a matter of weeks at the behest of powerful development interests, the law gutted decades of careful, if imperfect, law under the guise of jump-starting Florida's economy. Now that a judge has ruled the law unconstitutional, those same legislative leaders are planning to try again in 2011. Floridians must know where the next governor will stand on the issue.
The ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Francis underscores the ongoing failure of the state leadership to address how to fund responsible growth so that Florida doesn't further descend into a land of urban sprawl, strip malls and clogged roads.
Such capitulation of responsibility has spawned a populist backlash, the Hometown Democracy movement, that is equally a threat to wise growth. Amendment 4 on November's ballot, placed there by a citizens petition, would require voters to weigh in any time a local government needed to change its comprehensive plan. Such a hurdle is fraught with unintended consequences.
No doubt, SB 360 was a boon to those collecting signatures for Amendment 4. The effect of SB 360 was to transfer significant planning authority for large projects from the state Department of Community Affairs to local governments, and it let developers off the hook for paying for road improvements to handle the traffic their projects create.
Gov. Charlie Crist, despite immense pressure from the environmental community, signed the law suggesting there was a key provision that would mitigate its impact: a requirement that the Legislature consider letting local governments charge a "mobility fee" to pay for infrastructure needs tied to growth. But — no surprise here — the 2010 Legislature never seriously considered authorizing mobility fees, nor did Crist push the issue.
Four counties and 16 cities fought back in court, saying that SB 360 violated the "unfunded mandate" provision of the state Constitution. The judge concurred. The provision bars the Legislature from ordering local governments to implement a law without providing the means to do so — either by direct appropriation of money or by giving local governments the taxing authority to raise the money on their own.
Legislative backers seemed largely unfazed last week. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, pledged to bring the measure back in 2011, when both legislative chambers are expected to maintain staunch Republican majorities. But one thing will be different in 2011. Florida will have a new governor.
The question voters now need to ask Republican Rick Scott, Democrat Alex Sink and independent candidate Bud Chiles: Would you sign such a bill or would you veto it? Floridians need to know.