Citing a 2013 Moody’s report, state House Speaker Will Weatherford recently noted that Florida is poised to once again grow at the rate of 1,000 new residents each day. Given the history of growth and development issues in our state, that is either good or bad news, depending on your perspective.
The last time Florida experienced that kind of growth, the comprehensive 1985 Growth Management Act was adopted by the governor and Legislature. This act was designed to deal with the many challenges new growth presented to roads, schools, drinking water supplies, stormwater drainage, coastlines and natural areas. And even with this program in place, Florida still didn’t keep up with all the impacts new growth caused.
The 2011 Legislature undid much of the 1985 law. First and foremost, it abolished the state’s land planning agency, the Department of Community Affairs, along with most of its administrative rules. As a result, “concurrency” programs to help fund transportation and schools became optional, state oversight of growth and development was minimized in favor of local government and it made it more difficult for citizens to challenge inappropriate plan amendments.
At the same time, drastic budget cuts to the nation’s biggest land-protection program didn’t help either. All of this happened supposedly in the name of job creation and economic growth.
Now that we are emerging from the economic downturn, what is the 2013 Legislature doing? For starters, it continues to loosen related environmental controls, interfere with local government home rule authority, and tout the need to further streamline regulations in order to promote more economic development. How does this work to protect the quality of life that has attracted our existing 19 million residents? Who ultimately pays the bill?
Our organization, 1000 Friends of Florida, is concerned that continuing down this path is a recipe for future unintended consequences that will cost us all, economically as well as environmentally. Weak growth-management controls, especially at a time when the next “boom” is at our doorstep, is a dangerous policy. Taxpayers will ultimately pay.
This next wave of growth can be accommodated if strong growth and environmental controls are maintained and funded, along with payment of reasonable developer impact costs and effective local and state land acquisition programs. Let your legislators know that Florida must plan for growth if we are to protect our quality of life, natural resources and pocketbooks.
Charles G. Pattison, president, 1000 Friends of Florida, Tallahassee