Leave state's boom-bust in the dust
January 1, 2010
One year ago sage reporter George Packer, writing for the New Yorker magazine, captured the essence of the economic collapse in Florida with a seminal work, "The Ponzi State: Florida's Foreclosure Disaster."
Packer captured the essence of Florida's current economic collapse - a boom-bust state with fast growth that required ever-more growth to cover the cost of past development and the infrastructure and services that the soon-to-be third-largest state in the union will need to maintain a strong quality of life.
The fiction that growth pays for itself had been exposed, though we had seen the warning signs years earlier, with brisk cover stories by the Wall Street Journal in September 2007, "Is Florida Over?," and the next month in Florida Trend, which caroled that the North Carolina "hills are alive" with Floridians moving to the Tar Heel state.
Boom-bust was the standard for those who enriched themselves off fast growth and then could afford to hunker down until the next wave.
But what about the rest of us? What strategy was in place for average Floridians seeking to just make ends meet and perhaps provide better lives for their children?
Florida would experience thousands of people moving into our state each day - in Hillsborough County alone 26,000 new residents a year, along with approximately 6,000 new school-age children.
The boom placed pressure on our core infrastructure, creating a network of overcrowded schools, failed roads and overtaxed water supply, leaving in its wake disgruntled residents weary from escalating property taxes and lousy services.
So what do we do? Hunker down and wait until the next boom? I hope we have learned that lesson from history and will shed any pretense of simply waiting for more of the same to get us out of this mess.
Some encouraging signs can be seen in Tallahassee, which is focusing on building a strong foundation of roads, rail and industry predicated upon quality schools, from K-12 to our universities.
But I do hope lawmakers take a more prescient view on issues of magnitude, such as growth management.
In Hillsborough I would urge we move forward with haste to build a leaner, more responsive local government that spends less and cooperates more with other local governments and non-governmental agencies to provide quality services residents should expect from their government.
We should accelerate our partnerships with the University of South Florida, the Moffitt cancer center, the Veterans Administration hospital and the superb network of local hospitals so we can grow an industry predicated on the life sciences that will treat disease and injury better than before, while creating a plethora of new high-paying jobs for people who now must rely on entry-level service jobs.
I believe in our future, and I am excited about the prospects that will come to a community that faces up to its challenges by being smarter in how we govern ourselves and bolder in how we move people and goods from home to market.
The new year promises to be an important one.
With courage and confidence exhibited by all Floridians, it will be the beginning of a new economic story - far better than the one told just one year ago.
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