TAMPA- Tampa Bay's politicians and business leaders should start building a consensus to foster and manage growth, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said here Wednesday. "We can't afford an adversarial relationship between business and government," and should include minorities in the consensus-building, Young told more than 400 business executives at a forum on Florida's controversial growth management law. "We all need to be singing from the same hymn book."
While Young called for unity, House speaker Tom Gustafson, D-Fort Lauderdale, made an impassioned case for financing new roads and threw partisan shots at Gov. Bob Martinez for his vow to veto a gas-tax increase.
Gustafson said Martinez told him privately he would back a gas-tax increase after the November gubernatorial election. The speaker, who supports a $650-million transportation package backed by a 5-cent gas-tax increase and other fees, had tough words for the governor's position.
"It is serious business what we do this session," Gustafson said. "Those who think we can wait another year are absolutely crazy, unless you enjoy bankruptcy."
Jon Peck, a spokesman for Martinez, said that as far as he knew Martinez had made no such statement and that Gustafson's remark was "absolute and total hogwash."
The growth-management law prohibits local governments from approving new development unless roads and sewers can accommodate them.
The law has led to building moratoriums in several counties.
Business leaders and many politicians have called for the state to raise taxes to pay for road construction, decreasing the impact of the growth law. The state Department of Community Affairs, charged with overseeing the growth law, objects to most new state financing for state roads, arguing that roads should be the responsibility of local governments.
But Gustafson said Wednesday that unless the state pays for new roads to keep development going, the state's building recession will worsen.
"I love the environmentalists, and I'm sure they love me," he said. "But this state will not prosper without development."
Gustafson called for an end to partisanship, while at the same time making decidedly partisan comments.
"The answers are simple, and you have to stop allowing the political debate to continue on what is not very important," he said.
But later, in a call for the defeat of Martinez, the Democrat raised a clenched fist and said, "There's a prudent way to do the job, but you have to get angry and mean and do the job."
Young, a Georgia gubernatorial candidate who now is a special consultant to Law Engineering Inc., an Atlanta-based international engineering company that engineered several downtown Tampa skyscrapers, struck a sharply different tone.
The former United Nations ambassador said the Tampa Bay area must grow an identity and project a positive image about itself. Quibbling over the new growth-management law sends the wrong image to outsiders.
"You give the attitude, and you market your city just as you market your product," he said.
Young, 57, said he views Tampa as a competitor to Atlanta in the quest for corporate relocations. And he conceded that Tampa has some advantages: its airport, its sunshine, its quality of life, its opportunity to build a major city from scratch.
"We really envy Tampa," he said.
But Young, a civil rights leader, said a consensus among business and government must extend to the minority community. A key ingredient to Atlanta's success was the inclusion of minority voices in decision making.
He cited the ability of the city to convince minority groups to support the mass transit system by guaranteeing 20 percent of the construction contracts to minority contractors. When the minority leadership complained about the regressive nature of the sales tax that would help pay for the system, the city agreed to lower bus fares.
Now, the city's mass transit system is one of the engines behind its growth, with skyscrapers rising along each of its stops.
"The black community needs jobs, and the business community needs profits," he said.