This week's cover story package on Collier County's rejection of Jackson Laboratory provides an invaluable lesson on economic development for all of the Gulf Coast. For all of Florida, for that matter.
Indeed, kudos to the private-sector leaders of Collier County who did what business and government leaders in all cities and counties should do. They systematically, logically and unemotionally analyzed all sides of whether Collier County should contribute $130 million of taxpayers' money toward the location and operation of a Jackson Laboratory campus in east Collier County.
And the answer was “no.” It was too risky and promised too little return on investment.
In interviews with the Business Review's Lee-Collier Editor Jean Gruss, members of the Collier County Productivity Committee spoke candidly of what their research uncovered. They acted like venture capitalists and angel investors whose own money would be at stake. And as such, they focused not on the razzle-dazzle of a genetics research lab possibly coming to town. They focused on return on investment — the real return, not inflated multipliers.
Sarasota County residents and state lawmakers: Take note.
In the weeks ahead, more than likely all kinds of starry-eyed civic and political leaders will be pressing all out to persuade Sarasota County and state taxpayers to approve $200 million or more in corporate welfare for Jackson Lab. And they will do so, in all likelihood, without the kind of analysis that was conducted in Collier County.
That would be a tragedy and travesty.
We're not opposed to Jackson Lab coming to Sarasota, Hillsborough or Collier counties. It would be great if it did.
But not on the public dole. As the Collier County committee did, Sarasota should look at all of the costs — especially the opportunity cost. “Follow the money.”
Sen. Graham vs. Gov. Scott
Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and one of his journalist admirers, Lucy Morgan, longtime Tallahassee correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times, can't stand it.
They can't stand that new Florida Gov. Rick Scott does not embrace their statist, paternalistic world and wants to go in the opposite direction as they. They can't stand that Scott wants Florida to reverse course and reduce the reach of the state on its citizens.
To that end, Morgan just had to call Florida's wise Liberal Lion last week and ask Graham what he thought of the agenda of our new governor.
No surprise, Graham delivered just what Morgan was hoping for — a lashing of Scott, which, of course, makes great news copy.
From her report:
“(Graham) openly criticized Gov. Rick Scott's plans to cut education funding, eliminate money for Florida Forever and dismantle the state agency that oversees growth management.”
It was as if Morgan really was saying: Can you believe this? Gov. Scott is attacking the three pillars of Florida statism — government-monopolized education; buying private land with tax dollars to “preserve” it from development; and one of the anti-growth community's favorite institutions, the Department of Community Affairs, the gatekeeper to inhibiting population growth and development by way of regulation. How dare he.
Graham went on:
“This idea of selling Florida as the cheapest state — well that's what we've got now. To drive it (costs) down at the expense of young people's education is wrong.
“Florida is a wonderful place to live. But it is a fragile place, and we have to keep investing in the things that will retain that high quality of life.'”
Translation: Sen. Graham embraces the view that education can improve only with more money; that the state is smarter than its citizens and that taking your money and letting lawmakers and bureaucrats “invest” it is the best way to secure Florida's quality of life.
You can just imagine correspondent Morgan savoring the criticism of Scott as she tapped out Graham's words on her computer. Take that, governor!
To be sure, there is a big contrast here. Night (Graham) and day (Scott).
In fact, there has never been a clearer, more diametrically opposite philosophical difference in modern Florida political history than that of the Bob Graham-liberal Democrat tradition versus the freedom philosophy of Scott.
When Graham was in the governor's mansion, he was one of the leading champions of the “unitary tax,” contending such a tax would not discourage companies from locating to Florida. If you've been around long enough to remember that battle, surely you recall the howling from Florida's business community, which, thankfully, managed to beat back the tax.
As governor, Graham also was one of the leading proponents of the (now-infamous) 1985 Growth Management Act. Talk to any city manager, city commissioner, director of municipal planning, developer or property owner, and he will lament his exasperation with the labyrinthine regulations and mandates that have grown like kudzu in Florida's growth management laws. And he will be especially critical of DCA, the agency that oversees these laws. It's the bureaucracy that Florida property owners dread dealing with more than any other.
Florida State University economist Randall Holcombe pointed out in 2005 that Florida's growth-management laws have led exactly to what Graham and his “controlled-growth” proponents wanted to stop: more sprawl. Worse, however, Florida's growth-management laws have made Florida development far more expensive than it otherwise would be without them. And they have chased away economic growth.
From this, Graham took his statist ways to the U.S. Senate, where they blossomed even more. Americans for Tax Reform, the organization that opposes all tax increases, consistently gave Graham a 5% rating on anti-tax and anti-spending issues, putting him at the bottom of friends to taxpayers and in the same company with some of the nation's most liberal luminaries — Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Joe Biden.
So, of course, Bob Graham chafes at Gov. Scott's agenda. Scott is the antithesis of what Graham believes.
As a matter of fact, if you juxtapose Scott's agenda with the philosophy of the framers of our Constitution, Scott's guiding philosophy is as close to what the founding fathers believed as we have seen since Barry Goldwater.
Indeed, read the final passages of the governor's State of the State address in the box above. They describe the foundation of the original America: “our promise of ... lower taxes ... individual opportunity, individual accountability and more freedom ...”
If you know Scott, you know those words are not just political rhetoric. They are his convictions, the core of who he is. “Don't blink,” Scott told his legislative colleagues at the State of the State. Don't be cowards. “... Stand together with the courage of our convictions,” he urged them.
Rick Scott may not be the orator of a Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy (yet). And nearly half of Floridians may think his beliefs and agenda are extreme. But they are not. They are fundamentally American.
Given the choice — the path of Graham and statism, or that of Scott and increasing freedom, Floridians (and Americans) have reached the Rubicon. The contrast is sharp. We know the old path, the Graham path, is unsustainable and destroying us. Scott, meanwhile, has the courage and conviction to change course. We hope lawmakers can find the same within themselves.
If they do, we can't wait to call Sen. Graham four years from now.