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Business Observer Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 10 years ago

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Ten government leaders who will play crucial roles in shaping the next decade.
by: Jay Brady Government Editor

Who will be driving government decisions in the coming decade? The Review identified 10 elected officials across the Gulf Coast — seven men and three women — who will play major roles in 2010 and beyond.

They told us the most important issues facing the region, what they hope to accomplish in 2010, and a few things most people don't know about them.

Economic concerns dominate the minds of these 10 state and local elected government officials, as illustrated in these excerpts of recent interviews. They touch on issues including budgets, bureaucracy, taxes, spending, education, Medicaid, high speed rail, commuter rail, growth management, impact fees, utilities, jobs, the economy, Tim Geithner and freedom.

Gary Aubuchon

Party: Republican
Office: State Representative, District 74, covering parts of Charlotte and Lee counties
Key committees: Chairman of the Roads, Bridges and Ports Policy Committee; Vice Chairman of the Finance and Tax Council; Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning
Public service: Elected to House in 2006, re-elected 2008
Occupation: Homebuilder and real estate broker
Residence: Cape Coral
Family: Married, three children
Education: University of Michigan, B.A., History
Born: July 10, 1962, Ferndale, Mich.
Moved to Florida: 1984
What most people may not know about him: Black Belt in Hayashi-Ha Karate

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The economy. From a legislative perspective I am trying to bring forth initiatives that will create jobs and expand the economy. I've led the fight to bring about the SunRail project. I will once again be in the forefront of that project. The SunRail project over a 30 year period ... is roughly a $2.66 billion project, the cost of which is shared by four different entities. So from the state perspective $700 million will enable us to fund a $2.66 billion project that will create over 100,000 new jobs. There will be an incredible spinoff effect. There will be all types of new businesses that will exist to service this new mode of transportation. I will probably be dealing with it as the sponsor of the bill.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has suggested that Florida would be eligible for $2.5 billion for high speed rail for the corridor from Tampa to Orlando if we show a commitment to commuter rail. We can double our return on investment because we can get two projects for the price of one. You're not just getting the project but the employment and the future business opportunities that will happen as a result of the project. We need to look at commuter rail as one piece of the overall land planning puzzle. There's certainly some things to be worked out. The solution for the next 30 years is simply not more pavement. That won't get us there.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
What I hope to be a part of accomplishing is completing 2010 with a balanced budget for the state that will provide the services for the greatest number of people in need and creates a regulatory environment that encourages business expansion and relocation into our state. I would always have that concern about redirecting transportation trust fund revenues and certainly as chairman of Roads, Ports and Bridges those concerns are heightened. The state is by and large funded on the general revenue side by sales tax. What's good about that is that it is a self-leveling mechanism. It forces us as a state Legislature to adjust what the state spends on our constituent's ability to pay. To understand that concept helps us better approach budget deficits. In adhering to that fiscal conservative viewpoint then it becomes a matter of how to best effectively allocate resources.

Rachel Burgin


Party: Republican
Office: State Representative, District 56, covering parts of Hillsborough County
Key committees: Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee; Pre-K - 12 Policy Committee; State Universities and Private Colleges Appropriations Committee
Public service: Elected to House in 2008
Occupation: Legislator
Residence: Brandon
Family: Single
Education: Attending Moody Bible Institute; Bob Jones University, 2001-2004
Born: July 23, 1982, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Moved to Florida: Native
What most people may not know about her: she is a singer, mostly classical music

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The budget issues and the deficit problems that we have is foremost on most constituents' minds. The economy is one of the ones we hear about. We need to be sure we have a balanced budget. We have to make sure that our spending is in check and ensure that taxpayers aren't overburdened. All of our committees I serve on relate to where the budget is. I have a couple bills where I am working on economic issues that will help with job creation issues or reduce cost mandates on cities or counties. One bill will save my local cities and counties a significant amount of money. It's a local inspection requirement mandate from the state.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
The thing on the forefront is that government is not in the way of business in Florida. I will vote on issues to move Florida ahead to recover economically. I have an education bill I will be working on. Education is very important to our state. I have an education technology issue I'm going to be working on that will help save the state money and provide a better education structure for our students. I am working on a tax issue. Education, job growth and promotion are most important right now. The inspection requirement is going to save tax dollars. It was an unfunded requirement that will save local taxpayers.

Mike Fasano


Party: Republican
Office: State Senator and President Pro Tempore, District 11, covering parts of Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties
Key committees: Chairman of Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations; Policy and Steering Committee on Governmental Operations; Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means
Public service: Elected to Senate in 2002, re-elected 2006
Occupation: Associate vice president for investments, Morgan Stanley; director of community and legal affairs, Florida Hospital in Zephyrhills
Residence: New Port Richey
Family: Single
Education: Attended St. Petersburg Junior College, 1987-1990
Born: June 11, 1958, Mineola (Long Island), NY
Moved to Florida: 1971
What most people may not know about him: As the youngest of five children he dropped out of high school at age 15, following the death of his father due to prostate cancer. He went to work to help the family and received his GED at 28.

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
It's our economy, it's our budget, it's creating jobs. We have a major task before us in the Legislature — to create incentives to reduce the government burden on our businesses to help companies create jobs. We've been successful in the past and hope to do that in the future. We hope to get property insurance costs under control. Baby boomers are going to be looking for a place to live and we hope to give them an affordable place to live. We want them to come to Florida. How we can create jobs is the most important factor to getting our economy back on the road again. We also have a responsibility to help train those individuals in a different area of the workplace. Florida has gotten about $150 million to do that.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
To turn our economy around that should be a goal of everyone. That should be a goal at the state and local level. We've got to do that by making Florida more affordable for everyone. We have to do it without raising taxes or creating new taxes or increasing any taxes or fees. There will be an economic development package. What exactly will be in that package we'll know when we get closer to the session. Last session we didn't have enough dollars to go where we want to go.

Our governor and Legislature got criticized by signing Senate bill 360 (the Community Renewal Act), but that will go a long way to clearing barriers to good growth. I would encourage our local cities and counties to look at their impact fees. They need to re-look at their impact fees and reduce them to allow development and create those jobs. It's not looked at as the affordable state any longer and we have to change that.

Bill Galvano


Party: Republican
Office: State Representative, District 68, covering parts of Manatee and Hillsborough County
Key committees: Chair of Rules and Calendar Council; Chair of Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review; Chair of Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; Full Appropriations Council on Education and Economic Development; Joint Legislative Budget Commission
Public service: Elected to House in 2002, reelected subsequently
Occupation: Attorney at Grimes, Goebel, Grimes, Hawkins, Gladfelter & Galvano
Residence: Bradenton
Family: Married with three children
Education: University of Miami, J.D.; University of Florida, B.A. Political Science
Born: April 16, 1966, Liberty, NY
Moved to Florida: 1969
What most people may not know about him: Enjoys golf and cooking, especially Italian cuisine

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The most important issue is the economy and how we plan for Florida from an economic standpoint. We're providing an atmosphere for business and creating a diversity in our economic engines. So what I'm doing about it is, first, the biotech caucus that I chair to support legislation to create incentives for businesses to come here, such as tax credits.

And we need to take a look at the corporate income tax itself and how we are partnering with the state university system because industries like the biotechnical industry thrives with a university system that can provide the research capabilities and train students who eventually become workers. The other part is how businesses get up and running in the state and that is a bureaucracy issue. And I will continue to support legislation that will continue to streamline the process. I believe we have too much bureaucracy in Tallahassee — like the department of community affairs — that can be streamlined. That's a step in the right direction.

Other things include expediting permitting. We did pass a law requiring water management districts and the department of environmental protection to come up with an expedited process. There's more we can do there with infrastructure and TBARTA [Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority] and we still need dedicated funding sources, for example, a portion of a rental car surcharge.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
I would like to see the gaming issue that I've been working on come to a resolution in 2010. I would like to see us expand the Medicaid reforms we worked on with Gov. Bush so we don't have our entire budget consumed by Medicaid. We need to enhance the economy and I would like to see us make the tough choices from a budget standpoint with a lot of thought and analysis and not a lot of across-the-board cuts. The issues I will spend my time on are the big issues and not some ancillary legislation. It's all about our economy and the budget. The big key for us will be if we can somehow plan and analyze our budget on a multiyear basis instead of a per year basis. No one anticipates the future year benefits.

Connie Mack, IV


Party: Republican
Office: U.S. House of Representatives, District 14, covering parts of Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties
Key committees: Budget; Foreign Affairs, ranking member of the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; and Transportation and Infrastructure
Public service: Elected to U.S. House in 2004, re-elected in 2006 and 2008; Florida House of Representatives, 2000-2003
Occupation: Independent business and marketing consultant, previously a business executive with Fort Myers-based LTP Management
Residence: Fort Myers
Family: Married to U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, two children and two stepchildren
Education: University of Florida, B.S. Advertising
Born: Aug. 12, 1967, Cape Coral
Moved to Florida: Native
What most people may not know about him: Grew up on the water; first job was building boats; spent time on Cabbage Key, Useppa, and North Captiva

What is the most important issue facing your district, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The biggest issue facing all of us, regardless of your district it appears, is that the Democrats are trying to fundamentally change the government for the citizens of this country. We're getting away from the principles that this country was founded on. I think we should get back to less government, more freedom, less taxes, and less spending.

What we're seeing now is whenever there's a problem more people are asking what the federal government is going to do for them. That's not what this country was founded on. It's not a path to freedom and prosperity. I've been very outspoken on the $4 trillion budget, the auto bailout, health care, and all this legislation is a nonstarter for me because it violates the principles and foundation of America. I asked the president early on that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner be removed. Geithner doesn't understand what makes America great. I've been outspoken on both sides — when Bush proposed a bailout and when Obama proposed bailouts.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
What I'd like to see is that we take the majority back from the Democrats so we can bring some common sense reform policies as it relates to our economy and foreign affairs, and get back to those principles to make America great. We need to have a conversation with the American people about the difference between the party in power now and the Republican party, and why it's always dangerous to turn to the federal government to solve all our problems, whether we want more control over our lives and respect of individuals.

Garrett S. Richter

Party: Republican
Office: State Senator, District 37, covering parts of Collier and Lee counties
Key committees: Chair of Banking and Insurance; Policy and Steering Committee on Commerce and Industry; Select Committee on Florida's Economy; Education Pre-K - 12 Appropriations
Public service: Elected to Senate in 2008; Florida House of Representatives 2006-2008
Occupation: President, First National Bank of the Gulf Coast
Residence: Naples
Family: Married with three children and one grandson
Education: Graduate School of Banking, University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Pittsburgh, Bachelor of Science in Communications and Business
Born: Aug. 1, 1950, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Moved to Florida: 1987
What most people may not know about him: Started banking career as a janitor for Mellon Bank in 1969

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
Our state is challenged with the need to diversify our economy. In order to diversify the economy and incentivize job creation we need to create a welcome environment with well thought out incentives for people to locate here and incentivize them to return measurable results. We need companies such as research facilities that can collaborate with research universities and create high wage jobs. Florida needs to generate economic activity to generate more jobs and lead to more prosperity for all Floridians. The Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy is in search of good ideas to provide diversification. We're working with other employers to expand or relocate to expand their businesses to our state and bring with those relocations job opportunities.

I think we need climate change — by that I mean business environment climate change — what I would consider creating a positive environment that welcomes business growth and new employers to expand. For every 10% in taxation on businesses it costs Florida 75,000 jobs, so to the extent we can reduce corporate taxes we can increase job opportunities.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
There are three goals I have established. First, I would like us to pass a referendum to give Floridians the opportunity to vote on the fundamental right to a secret ballot. It's under attack in Washington under proposed card check legislation. Workers should be protected in collective bargaining, and be protected from union organizers, management and fellow workers.

The second goal is to continue to work on property insurance reform to increase competition and promote market pricing to serve to reduce Citizens Property Insurance Corporation back to an insurer of last resort.

The third goal, as we meet the constitutional mandate of a balanced budget, we need to maintain the emphasis of reducing government spending. Next year we begin with a $3 billion hole in our budget. All agency heads in government need to identify overlap, reduce redundancy and manage their agencies effectively and efficiency. We need to improve and turn around our economy.

Ronda Storms

Party: Republican
Office: State Senator, District 10 covering parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties
Key committees: Chair, Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee; Policy and Steering Committee on Social Responsibility; co-chair, Joint Legislative Sunset Committee; Banking and Insurance Committee; Rules Committee
Public service: Elected to Senate in 2006, covering parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties; Hillsborough County commissioner 1998-2006
Occupation: former high school English teacher, attorney, businesswoman
Residence: Valrico
Family: Married with two children
Education: J.D. Stetson University College of Law; University of South Florida, B.A. Education
Born: Sept. 1955, Des Moines, Iowa
Moved to Florida: 1982
What most people may not know about her: has a psychological need to rescue abandoned chairs, recover furniture

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The economy, making sure that people have an opportunity to get back to work, and stopping the growth of government. Government is not the answer. In large part it's part of the problem. The government is part of the problem because everyone on down the line is engaging in the same kind of behavior.

Even at this level you have public policy people making strategies to get us out of this morass. We have to get away from government agencies trying to mislead. I'm trying not to look toward government agencies. I'm trying to look toward private sector strategies, such as freeing up credit. Almost everything I'm doing is in a defensive posture, trying to stop more regulations and fees on people and taking their fiscal resources and trying to be truthful. It is also that we have an underutilization and an unemployment rate. One of the things we did is host a meet and greet with the Florida Department of Transportation and FDOT contractors so that they were able to see what the contracts were and get information on how to get those contracts.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
Hopefully my goal is to make sure we keep the size of government smaller than what we're looking at so our small businesses can breathe; to see some serious economic development to make sure we can get as many jobs out on the street and not just to multistate corporations that are taking their jobs somewhere else. We are looking at changing the single sales factor. So in exchange for a particular amount of jobs we would be able to give some tax credit. But the problem is the fiscal impact to the state is hotly debated, so in exchange for the single sales factor we would be able to assure ourselves we would be attracting the kind of manufacturing that would not be coming to Florida but for that change. Tax breaks do attract the kind of economic development that we do want to have so the impact to the state budget would be offset by the jobs. We have to make sure we do our due diligence.

John Sullivan

Party: Republican
Office: Mayor of Cape Coral
Key committees: Served on Utilities Expansion Committee
Public service: Elected mayor in Nov. 2009
Occupation: Brokerage business, licensed broker for 25 years; information technology consultant for 17 years
Residence: Cape Coral
Family: Married, no children
Education: New York Institute of Finance; some college credits; mainframe computer programming
Born: March 25, 1943, Chicago, Ill.
Moved to Florida: 2005 and lived in Florida from 1969-70
What most people may not know about him: He's an avid fisherman.

What is the most important issue facing Cape Coral, and what are you doing to tackle it?
Two things: trust and the debt we've incurred. Eighty-seven percent of people in Cape Coral, according to the National Citizens Survey, do not trust their government. We owe over $600 million because of the utilities program — $840 million in total debt. We have a $140 million utility plant and we probably need to charge the unimproved property a fee, about $24.18 per ERU (equivalent residential unit) for about five years. That will pull $140 million out within a reasonable period of time. I want to see us cut back spending and get some into reserves, and give some back to residents as a rebate and some to pay off the debt.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
Smaller budget and hopefully we can gain more trust than we've got now. Less spending more efficient government. We'll be looking at everything. I don't like what we pay for things. I think we can do a better job of procurement. I want to be sure we don't buy anything but what we need. Of course , this is going to take a vote of the council. I want to be sure everyone understands that. I'm only one vote up there. We eventually need to go to a strong mayor, but we need to get some of the debt straightened out first so we can deliver the utilities — sewer and water — at a much lower price. We paid too much — a lot more than other people in this area, a lot more — therefore we incurred more debt than we should have.

Carol Whitmore

Party: Republican
Office: Manatee County Commissioner, At-Large Seat, District 6, First Vice Chairman; Holmes Beach City Commissioner 1991-98; Mayor of the city of Holmes Beach 1998-2006
Key committees: Chairman of Manatee County Civic Center Authority; Chairman of Tourist Development Council; Chairman of Environmental Lands Management Action Committee
Public service: Elected in 2006
Occupation: Licensed Registered Nurse
Residence: Holmes Beach
Family: Married with one child
Education: Manatee Community College, Associate of Science degree
Born: Dec. 3, 1954, Detroit, Mich.
Moved to Florida: 1969
What most people may not know about her: Was homeless and lived by herself at age 15 and put herself through college; she worked in a drugstore after lying about her age and worked at night at nursing home as a nursing assistant

What is the most important issue facing Manatee, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The most import issue in my mind is getting our citizens jobs. That's number one — and get some economic recovery going and our unemployment is at 12% and that's unacceptable. We as a government should do everything we can to get our citizens back to work or get a job. I'm getting firsthand experience. I attended the stand down last week at the fairgrounds where 712 homeless people showed up at 7:30 in the morning. I was culture-shocked. I couldn't believe all the people newly homeless and this was just a one-day event. I'm working with the one-stop about getting the homeless some help to get these people jobs. I worked and got the county to approve opening up the indigent care agreement with the hospitals. For 24 years it's only been Manatee Memorial Hospital getting reimbursed for the poor — now it's all three hospitals.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
To stabilize the unemployment in the county. And it's going to be very hard next. year. I think it's going to get a little worse. I think we're going to have to cut county government next year and that means losing more jobs. It's going to be very rough just getting some of our citizens back to work. Just because you're a pro-business commissioner doesn't mean you're pro-growth. We have taken action at the county level to give preference for our jobs to local companies. They have priority if they're local businesses. We encourage in the county to look at local businesses so we can get these people back to work. It's just a really hard time to be an elected official because we have unfunded mandates from the state and people can't afford their taxes, so it's not a fun time to be an elected official. You have to be committed.

Will Weatherford


Party: Republican
Office: State Representative District 61, covering parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties
Key committees: Chair of Education Policy Council; Full Appropriations Council on Education and Economic Development; Pre-K-12 Appropriations Committee; Rules and Calendar Council; Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning
Public service: Elected to Florida House of Representatives in 2006, re-elected in 2008
Occupation: Small business owner and consultant
Residence: Wesley Chapel
Family: Married with one child
Education: Jacksonville University, B.S. 2002
Born: November 14, 1979, Dallas, Texas
Moved to Florida:
1986
What most people may not know about him: Comes from a family of nine children and is the second oldest.

What is the most important issue facing Florida, and what are you doing to tackle it?
The lack of economic growth and the job losses that we suffered. We're doing a multitude of things. We're doing everything we can to look at the tax structure and the bureaucratic red tape that prevents small businesses from being able to expand. We need to get radical about the way we look at our role when it comes to figuring out how government can get out of the way and become more of a resource for business. Regulation at the state level can be burdensome, and we need to figure out how to change that. We need to continue to push reforms for education to improve education, transportation and quality of life. While in education we made drastic improvements, we have a long way to go. To have a good workforce we have to have a skilled workforce for the 21st century.

What do you most hope to accomplish in 2010?
Balancing the budget so it's fiscally responsible and protects education and is an efficient budget and we do everything we can to create jobs. Everything we do should create jobs, and if it doesn't we should ask ourselves if it should be a priority for this year. We don't want be California from a financial standpoint. It only creates disasters further down the line. I want to pass the [amendment to the] class size amendment, and we need to have flexibility for class size. Address economic incentives and encourage job creation and look at our prison system.

Of 100,000 prisoners, 85,000 will be released in the next five years. Of those 85,000, 37% will be back in prison in the next three years. The question is: How do we break that cycle? It's a financial issue. It's a public safety issue. We can't continue to build our way out of this issue by building more prisons. There's a mental health issue as well. It's a very big issue and something we're going to have to deal with this year.

Oil drilling is going to be very controversial. There's a lot of potential revenue there, but we have to consider the beaches, the economy and the environment. We're dong a very thorough analysis as to whether we should be exploring our resources.

Jay Brady covers state and local government issues. He can be reached at [email protected], or at 941-362-4848.

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