An estimated 300,000 Florida homes sit empty, and the state is in the midst of a foreclosure crisis. Yet Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott wants to make it easier to build new homes. That may sound good to developers or unemployed construction workers on the campaign trail. But the strategy would only exacerbate falling property values and hurt our long-term quality of life. It's further evidence that Scott's self-financed campaign is filled with more sound bites than serious policies to improve Florida's future.
Scott promised this month to loosen growth management regulations and accused the state agency that enforces those rules, the Department of Community Affairs, of "killing jobs" by denying development permits. Incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, even said DCA's responsibilities could be turned over to local governments, calling DCA an "obstacle."
Both Republicans are picking up where the 2009 Legislature left off, absurdly contending that DCA — not the collapse of the financial and mortgage markets — is dragging down Florida's economy. That perspective ignores the fact that growth management rules, first passed in 1985, did not forestall the state's extraordinary growth in recent decades. They only partially slowed the state's headlong rush toward sprawl, clogged roads and crowded schools. It isn't that they have worked so well that they discouraged development; they have not worked well enough to manage the growth.
Last year's gutting of some of growth management's key provisions has fueled a public backlash that boosted the ill-advised Amendment 4 on the Nov. 2 ballot. Called Hometown Democracy, the constitutional amendment threatens to put a choke-hold on Florida growth by requiring voters to approve any change to a local government's comprehensive land use plan. Scott and Cannon only feed the perception that developers, not Floridians, are in control.
Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink takes a much more pragmatic approach. Florida needs to overhaul its growth management laws. But to abandon growth management wholesale, or turn it over to local governments as Republican legislators have proposed, would doom Florida to the past, when taxpayers shouldered the cost of development and paid higher taxes for roads, schools and services. The fact is that local governments are notorious for not demanding much from developers, who often are major players in financing local campaigns.
Florida said no to such undue influence more than two decades ago when it required large regional developments to be approved by planners in Tallahassee and ordered DCA to oversee planning processes statewide. That need is even more pressing now that the state has 18.8 million residents, 66 percent more than in 1985. Sink understands that. Scott does not.