Taking Note of Flagler, Gov. Rick Scott Speaks Economics and Listens to Local Leaders
FlaglerLive | August 29, 2011
He was early: Gov. Rick Scott appeared at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce in Palm Coast this morning almost 15 minutes ahead of his 8 a.m. breakfast meeting with local business leaders and politicians, giving him plenty of time to get acquainted with the 16 faces around the table–all but four of them local government officials.
When the group sat down to breakfast–eggs and bacon, which Scott skipped: he spoke and took notes on a white, lined legal pad when others spoke–the governor briefed the assembly on the Legislature’s achievements in its last go-around, and what he expects of the coming session. He cited the end of teacher tenure and the expansion of charter schools among his (and the Legislature’s) biggest achievements, along with bucking the nation’s trend on jobs: the state’s creation of 65,000 jobs in the past year, he said, places Florida in second place behind Texas in job creation.
Texas envy was a recurring theme in the governor’s hour here: he referred to the state, almost longingly, several times, as a place where government regulation is low and where, compared to Florida, permitting issues are not a problem. (Scott used to live in Texas.)
Scott’s three goals in the coming session: more focus on education (his administration is studying ways to revamp higher education along Texas’s model, where universities are being required to operate more like businesses), keeping taxes “fair,” ensuring against “frivolous lawsuits,” and maintaining Florida’s cost of living low.
Local leaders spoke in turn of their respective concerns: Alan Peterson, the county commission chairman, asked about the state’s budget health and its rainy day fund, Jon Netts, the Palm Coast mayor, thanked the governor for visiting but also reminded him that “one size does not fit all” in Florida’s 67 different districts, and John Feind, the Flagler Beach commission chairman, brought up his city’s concerns over the state Department of Transportation’s proposed seawall along certain areas of the beach. The city isn’t opposed to a seawall per se, Feind said, but only if other options are exhausted.
The governor appeared comfortable, spoke at his usual rapid clip and appeared to write down the names of those who addressed him as well as their comments. The seating arrangement told its own story: Doug Baxter, the chamber president, sat to the governor’s right, Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, sat at the other head of the table, while Netts, sat two seats down from the governor, on the left, next to Sen. John Thrasher.
Scott Uncut: The Governor’s 72 Minutes at the Chamber
Matters got quite precise in some cases. For example, Netts and Frank Meeker, the Palm Coast city councilman, raised the issue of water permitting in Palm Coast: they have a 20-year “consumptive use permit” that the St. Johns River Water Management District just approved, expanding Palm Coast’s daily water draws from wells to just over 11 million gallons per day (the city uses 7.7 million gallons). But to enable growth in the future, Netts said, the 20-year permit should itself have more room for growth. Scott said he’d enable a meeting with agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection to ease permitting strictness.
At one point, when Sea Ray Boats CEO Craig Wall mentioned the disparities in regulatory approaches from the state, depending on the district (Sea Ray has a plant in Palm Coast and elsewhere further south in the state), Scott offered up his office’s direct phone line, or at least his assistant’s, Diane Moulton, and said “I’ll get the right person to get involved and try to solve it.”
“If you all have any ideas,” Scott said, “you’ve got to tell us.”
“Tourism tax is a big concern,” Craig Coffey, the county administrator, told the governor, referring to the ongoing challenge of on-line booking agencies not paying TDC taxes. As Coutny Spokesman Carl Laundrie later explained, Flagler County “joined in with 10 other Florida Counties including St.Johns and filed court action in the Second Judicial Circuit (Leon County) against Expedia and eight other on line companies. What is going on is local and in state booking companies are required to impose the local TDC tax, but online companies don’t. The problem is the state agency responsible – the Department of Revenue – has not taken a stance on the issue.” (An earlier version of this story incorrectly linked Coffey’s comment to a movement against county-levied tourism taxes. There is no such movement afoot.)
Andy Dance, the school board member, invited the governor to spend one of his monthly “working days” (when Scott takes up a job in any of the state’s various industries and services for a few hours) as a teacher in Flagler County. Dance also challenged Scott: “If you’re sincere,” Dance told him, about looking into burdensome matters to local governments, Dance offered to draw up a list of unfunded mandates–state requirements that cost local government money, but are imposed without state aid–to illustrate those burdens. Scott invited Dance to draw up just such a list. Dance also asked Scott whether the state would be applying for waivers to No Child Left Behind, the federal law. The state would be, Scott said, even though it’s been among the most compliant with the law.
Toward the end of the meeting Landon raised the matter of infrastructure for Palm Coast, recalling how ITT built “the least expensive infrastructure that they could,” with a 30-year life-span. Those 30 years are up. Landon encouraged the governor to continue to make infrastructure a priority–not just highways and interchanges, but broadband, too.
Baxter toward the end of the meeting raised the matter of the west side’s 58,000 acres of pine trees in the state, its cabbage and potato growers, and had Greg Rawls, the outgoing director of Enterprise Flagler, put in a plug for the county’s attempt to bring “value-added” products in line with those agricultural resources. Rawls suggested to the governor to have a local ombudsman who’d be a liaison between the state’s economic development initiatives and those at the local level.
“I want everybody to understand the differences in our counties,” Scott said (citing differences between fee and permitting structures, for example.)
“You all have my telephone number, so call,” Scott said. The phone number: (850) 488-5603.
The meeting ended at 9:16, so Scott could hold a brief press conference and go to Florida Hospital Flagler nearby.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Netts said after the meeting, as the governor was across the room, speaking to reporters. Then Netts modulated the judgment: “We’re seeing some changes. I empathize. He’s got the problem that every government leader’s got: finite resources, infinite requests.”