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Flagler’s and Florida’s Economic Development Hoax

| March 18, 2012

The joys of $7.67 an hour.

I laugh when I hear Florida politicians from the governor on down to our own county and city viziers worship “economic development.” It’s not a happy laugh. Not in a state with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and certainly not in Flagler, the county with the highest unemployment rate in the state for the last couple of years.

Pierre Tristam FlaglerLive editor

Pierre Tristam

The Live Column

Lawmakers and their local replicas seem hypnotized by the buzz of economic development, nattering about it with great stamina. But it’s a hoax, and a costly one. Local governments have been on a binge of cost-and-tax-cutting to satisfy constituents who have a greater aversion to taxes than to shoddy roads, second-rate schools, unkempt parks, patchy public transportation and patchier public health. Why would companies look to relocate workers and families in a state or a county that doesn’t take its civic responsibilities seriously?

Nowhere is that more evident than with the Legislature’s assault on public and higher education in the last several years. The two pillars of economic development have been plundered with hardly a peep from people beyond the ranks of students and teacher unions. When unions do speak up, they’re insulted by anti-labor brigades. The $1 billion or so Gov. Rick Scott restored to public schools this year wasn’t enough to make up for last year’s cut, or begin to lift Florida from the bottom fifth in the nation in per-student funding, in drop-out and in college-entrance rates.

Rick Santorum’s craven populism aside, it isn’t snobbery to wish for more college graduates. It’s a matter of keeping up with a globalized economy where high-wage jobs without college degrees are the diminishing exception. The flip-side of Florida’s reputation as a wonderful vacation destination is a workforce living down to the burger-flipping expectations of tourists looking for good service, not companies looking for indispensable workers.

Better, more accessible higher education is the answer. Instead, higher education is taking a bloodbath. The Legislature cut funding 25 percent in four years. This year alone, lawmakers cut $300 million from the budgets of the state’s 11 universities. It’s up to each individual school to make up the difference. Or not. How they’re supposed to make good on Scott’s push for more science, technology, engineering and math—the so-called STEM disciplines—is anybody’s guess.

Tuition in Florida’s universities has been rising in double digits every year for the past six years, pricing out what should be a right—not a privilege—to every student who makes the grade. Bright Futures used to be the sort of generous scholarship that ensured full tuition to every high-achieving student. Not anymore. Between the Legislature’s cuts and tuition hikes, Bright Futures typically will cover barely half a student’s tuition and fees this fall, and considerably less when the cost of books is included.

On top of that, the Legislature passed a law that would remove the 15 percent cap on annual tuition increases at some universities. The governor hasn’t signed that bill yet. Even if he vetoes it, the greater damage is done, with his support.

The message from policy makers in this state is that pandering to the doctrine of small government is more important than long term investments in the state’s most important economic development engines: its public schools and public universities. State and local economic development efforts can natter on all they like about attracting companies with lower taxes or generous tax-forgiveness programs. That’s not high on companies’ lists of priorities. They look for a smart workforce, good schools and interesting towns where culture adds up to more than clusters of subdivisions and box stores. That combination is not a Florida specialty. The parochial sprawl aging to the rants of selfish taxpayers is.

If, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society,” Florida is choosing to take a pass. Good jobs are, too.

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11 Responses for “Flagler’s and Florida’s Economic Development Hoax”

  1. Outsider says:

    And let’s not forget the effects of our illustrious president cancelling the space shuttle program. The man who loves to spend billions of dollars on welfare couldn’t wait to fulfill a long term dream of his to cancel our manned space exploration program and put our country’s best and brightest on the welfare roles as well. But no worries, we’ve got free school lunches and food stamps for everyone.

    • Zachary says:

      Our illustrious president cancelled a dying program and handed it over to the private sector, conservatives like you should be creaming themselves at the thought of a private company taking over the reigns of R&D from one of those inefficient, bloated gubmint bureaucracies. It’s a wet dream! Right?

  2. ..very good thoughts Pierre.

    There continues to be symbolic, slogan-based gestures, but we also see an increased genuine interest and support for entrepreneurship, including some meaningful grassroots efforts. Turnaround will not be fast or painless for Flagler County, though we believe Palm Coast in particular has some advantages to position itself well in Florida.

    Ky Ekinci
    Co-Founder | Office Divvy ™

  3. Meyer says:

    Oliver Wendell Holmes served his country in a war that cost the lives of 600,000 Americans — a number that we cannot even fathom today. He was wounded three times. At Balls’ Bluff (shot in the chest). At Fredericksburg (shot in the leg). And at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, where he was shot in the neck and left for dead on the field. He fought for his country and served as one of the greatest Supreme Court justices that ever lived. In his will, expressed his devotion to his country by leaving his estate to the United States government.

    Mitt Romney never served his country. Never heard the whistle of bullets. How devoted is he to his country? When asked about his going to great lengths to pay the least amount of taxes possible, he said: “I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.”

    Who is devoted to their country? And who is devoted to money?

    • Think first, act second says:

      I would ask the same questions you asked of the current President. Where did he serve the country, what bullets has he heard, how much extra does he pay above the required amount? Your statements are only 1/2 encompassing without a full inclusion!
      When did Mitt Romney spend over $500,000 Million of our dollars to protect his contributors, ergo Solyndra? If you are going to cast stones, cast them all.

    • Rose says:


      And Obama did???

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    In the last 50 years I have lived in “the fastest growing county in
    America” three times, all in Florida.
    The growth of all three was 75%+ residential construction.
    All three squawked about “economic development” with tax cuts
    as an incentive for “clean industry” to come.
    It never came. What came we developments like Palm Coast with
    strip mall streets like PC Parkway and SR 100, mostly littered with
    failed strip malls and big-box stores.
    In the process all the “quaint” beach towns were destroyed.
    Somewhat well intentioned city and county governments, mostly
    in over their collective heads, tried to replicate where they came
    from in the north, with universal failure. Thus we have a Florida in
    the shape it is. Pierre is spot on ~ no industry will come here.
    Why on earth would they? And yet our “leaders” run around
    looking for another ” Cakes over America” to give money to.
    If it was not so tragically expensive and sad it would be funny.
    Dozens of hucksters à la Bobbie Ginn came, were given anything
    they wanted, then fled one step ahead of the law.
    Flagler County, however, has the dubious distinction of the “build it
    and they will come” madness. They now want to build a bigger cakes
    building, “ground ready” industrial parks and who knows what
    will come out of the next chamber of commerce horrors workshops.
    A good case can be made for Florida being a large Flagler County
    and the USA being a large Florida.
    America has lost her way and the “leaders” seem to think more guns,
    less freedom and prayer in school will fix it. We are in real trouble.
    “If we don’t turn around soon we will get where we are going.”

  5. palmcoaster says:

    @ Kip Durocher. Perfectly said, can’t be any more realistic than the words you wrote. Unfortunately the powers that be, are still pressuring hard for more of our hard earned taxes give aways.Is a never ending goal of TDC, FC Shamer of Commerce and each government ED, BAC or whatever they wanna call it. If some official comes up with a new non costly proposal for ED (like Frank’s Meeker one) at first try is booted. We are already into mid March 2012….lets see what TDC, ED and BAC have accomplished after their picked high dollar VP’s and their combined 2 million a year budget of our taxes by the end of 2012 will have to show for. Here say, will no do it now, as didn’t in the past as well.

  6. Outsider says:

    Actually Zachary, some endeavors are so expensive and the direct economic benefit insufficient that it necessitates it be a public undertaking as it has been for decades. NASA’s budget in 2009 was just under 18 billion dollars, so one can assume the shuttle’s budget was something less than that. The great o e couldn’t spend 55 billion dollars fast enough to extend unemployment benefits; he couldn’t spen nearly a trillion on a so-called stimulus bill. So, it seems kind of odd that he would cancel a ten billion dollar program as an attempt to save money or launch a new found desire to privatize government functions. If you studied his pre-presidential years you would have found he stated the space program was a waste of money and there were more pressing needs here on Earth (such as, apparently, spending 34 million dollars to rehabilitate a rat habitat in Nancy Pelosi’s district.). It should have been obvious to anyone with two brain cells that no private company could immediately take on a ten billion dollar program without some promise of a return on investment. Perhaps there should have been a plan in place that would make this transition possible? As it stands we, the first country to put a man on the moon is relegated to hitch hiking to space with Russians, who appreciatively doubled the fare as soon as the shuttle retired. We have no access to repair the Hubble telescope, or military satellites for that matter. I’m sure if need be thecandidate Russians will take us to fix our military satellites and hold the flashlight and take pictures. Now, we are Judy “one of many,” I’m sure to the delight of the extreme left. The fact is, there was no plan as was often the case with Obama; so how’s that Gitmo closing thing working out?

  7. Frank Zedar says:

    I know this is July 13th… and this article was written in March. I’m just re-reading some things. So, Florida has problems… and people don’t like paying taxes… and many are greedy and self-serving. Whoa! I never knew that! Therefore, we should no longer invest efforts in the arena of “Economic Development.” All is lost and we are doomed…

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Frank, considering you had four months to read this piece, I’d have thought you’d have grasped the point a bit more lucidly–that we can’t be claiming to be all for economic development with one side of our mouth while plundering our very best chances at sustainable economic development (our universities) with the other. We are precisely not investing in, but divesting ourselves of, the most proven economic development engines we have.

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