Financial woes force think tank named after Gov. LeRoy Collins to close

Published Feb. 1, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — The Collins Center for Public Policy, one of the state's most well-respected think tanks, announced Thursday that it is closing its doors after 25 years.

A roller-coaster period of growth, followed by recession-induced decline over the last two years, led to a financial fall from which the organization, named after former Gov. LeRoy Collins, could not recover.

"The center has been the standard-bearer for the legacy of former Gov. LeRoy Collins and his vision for a better Florida,'' said Parker Thomson, a Miami lawyer who served as the board's chairman, in a statement Thursday.

For years, the center was called upon to craft solutions to difficult policy challenges, Thomson said. It became the "conscience of Florida" on issues as diverse as ethics and election reforms, racial and ethnic discrimination, public safety, the environment, natural disasters, education, constitutional amendments and smart growth.

In the last election cycle, the center became a go-to source of nonpartisan information on the lengthy list of constitutional amendments on the ballot.

In recent years, the center offered services in foreclosure mediation, launching a program to provide financial counseling and mediation services in six of the 18 judicial districts. During that time, the center increased its staff 62 percent to meet the need and to draw mediation revenue from Fannie Mae.

"Those changes, however, were not nearly offset by grant revenue,'' the center said in a press release Thursday.

Financial problems deepened when Miami-Dade County canceled its foreclosure mediation contract with the center and a robo-signing scam triggered cancelation of the judicial mediation program altogether. The center's revenues dropped from $15.4 million in 2010 to $9.5 million in 2011 and its net revenues declined from $4.3 million to a loss of $4.2 million by July 2011.