Tampa Tribune

December 23, 2010

Scott risks too much, too fast



Governor-elect Rick Scott's transition team is proposing radical changes to state government and seems to think any efficiency or cut will be an improvement.

Among many other suggestions coming out of private brain-storming sessions is this: roll highway construction, environmental protection and growth management in a single big bureaucratic ball called Growth Leadership.

Forcing the Department of Transportation to absorb the departments of Community Affairs and Environmental Protection would weaken both growth management and environmental protection, and it would distract transportation leaders from their main job of keeping the state moving.

The giant agency's new mission would be to "make good development happen."

It's hard to guess what Scott's team means by "good." The transition group, meeting in secret, has concluded that the state, specifically the Department of Community Affairs, has suppressed development.

The group, dominated by developers, seems to be talking about a different state than the fast-growing one we've been living in. As outgoing DCA chief Tom Pelham correctly notes, his agency has tried to enforce growth laws passed by the Legislature. No state or local barriers have stopped or seriously slowed the development boom that left the market glutted with many more houses, lots and planned subdivisions than can soon be sold at fair prices.

Now the state is suffering through a housing bust that could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have been avoided by building more houses.

In any case, growth laws were never designed to stop growth. Their general purpose is to make sure taxpayers at large aren't either overcharged or overwhelmed by growth. It's a very conservative concept that, when it works as intended, is good for the state economy.

Another motivation of Scott's advisers seems to be to reduce friction between agencies. They're trying to fix something that isn't broken. Missions of different agencies can conflict because public interests can conflict.

Maybe a legally protected wetland is in the path of a new and needed highway. The DOT and DEP might disagree over which interest should prevail. If the environmental protectors were working for the highway builders, their job would be harder, if not impossible.

Speaking of wetlands, it is also troubling that Scott's team wants to prohibit Hillsborough and other counties from enforcing rules more restrictive than the state's. Why do they assume that someone in Tallahassee would be wiser than local voters and their representatives in deciding whether to protect irreplaceable natural assets?

If Scott takes his team's advice, the need will increase for strong, independent planning and environmental protection at the local level.

What Scott should do is slow down and listen to people outside his ideological circle. Changes pushed with too little thought might either fail to win the support needed to make them stick or else win approval and damage the state.

TaxWatch, a reliable voice for fiscal integrity and economic growth, has compiled some useful advice for new governors from former state leaders.

We call Scott's attention to these selected passages:

"Close your office door. Let no one stampede you. Take the time to find the centrality of state issues." - former Gov. Reubin Askew

"The governor-elect shouldn't be rushed to make a statement or decision before they are ready to do so. Be deliberate and thoughtful." – former Gov. Bob Martinez.

"Listen with an open mind and consider all perspectives before you act … I have often learned more from my critics than those who offered me only praise." – former Gov. Lawton Chiles.

"Communicate – clearly, concisely, consistently and constantly. For many people, change – even change they agree with – can be frightening. The bigger the idea, the greater the need for communication." - former Gov. Jeb Bush.

And this from Toni Jennings, Jeb Bush's lieutenant governor: "Be careful not to swallow the whole apple all at once or you'll choke. Take small bites and, in the end, the apple will still be gone but you won't have choked to death."

Scott should never swallow the whole bushel of apples dumped on his desk.