The duplicity is too rich not to observe with some awe. ¶ After all, the Florida Legislature doesn't trust mayors and city commissions with their own tax dollars, thinks county property appraisers need to prove the validity of their assessments and could care less whether a school principal deems certain teachers worthy of extra pay. So when a House council considers writing into law that city and county officials should be "presumed to be correct," one has to wonder what has left legislators so smitten.
The answer is as obvious as the bulldozers and construction cranes that dot the local landscape: developers.
That's right. In a bill being offered by the House Economic Expansion and Infrastructure Council, lawmakers would turn the 1985 Growth Management Act upside down. The reason the law exists is because cities and counties were giving green lights to almost every developer who wanted to build condo towers or shopping strips. That's why the state is required to make sure that new developments are consistent with city, county and state plans.
The council's bill, though, actually says that "the local government's determination that the plan amendment is in compliance is presumed to be correct." In other words, neither the state nor the local citizens need bother to challenge the developer. As state Department of Community Affairs secretary Thomas Pelham puts it: "That's a virtually impossible standard for us to meet."
The House Economic Council is led by Winter Park attorney Dean Cannon, who is in line to become speaker in 2010. As such, this bill is tied to the House leadership, and it represents a frontal assault on growth management.
Aside from the presumption of correctness, the bill also would: loosen standards for intensive development on existing rural lands, weaken requirements to upgrade overburdened roads before allowing new construction, and give cities and counties three more years to prove their development plans are financially feasible.
Pelham was among the last to see the draft of the House bill, and his attempt to create a citizen planning bill of rights is uniformly ignored. So is his approach to protecting the Everglades and making smarter development decisions in coastal high hazard areas.
A bill that so radically undermines state growth laws is not likely to pass through the Senate and certainly would deserve a veto if it did. But citizens who are fed up with overburdened highways and water restrictions may want to pay close attention to Cannon's bill. Those in the House who would vote in favor are placing the desires of developers above the needs of their constituents.