sun-sentinel.com/news/opinion/fl-bgcol-water-oped0112-20140112,0,643775.storyBob Graham: Growth management didn't cause state's economic woes
By Bob Graham, Guest columnist
January 12, 2014
In a recent widely circulated opinion piece, Wendell Cox, a St. Louis-based demographer, blamed Florida's growth-management laws enacted in the 1970s and '80s for the devastating effects of the 2007 great recession. Cox contends these laws restricted the supply of housing in Florida, contributing to the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis and great recession.
He further asserts that the repeal of those growth-management laws in 2011 was a key factor in the state's recovery.
As governor when Florida's 1985 Growth Management Act was passed, I'd like to share some observations regarding Cox's analysis.In the 1980s, Florida was growing at the rate of almost 1,000 people a day, roughly the equivalent of adding a new city of Tampa every year. It was in this climate that the Legislature overwhelmingly supported and I signed into law Florida's 1985 Growth Management Act.
In conjunction with land- and water-management legislation adopted in 1972, the act's four primary objectives were to protect environmentally sensitive areas from overdevelopment; ensure that the roads, schools and other infrastructure to support new development were properly funded and in place concurrent with the new growth; manage water resources for the public's benefit; and acquire conservation lands that contribute to the protection of Florida's natural resources, economy and quality of life.From 1985 until 2007, Florida's economy flourished. Our population continued to grow, from 11.3 million in 1985 to 18.7 million in 2007. During the 1980s alone, Florida added 1.5 million new jobs and for the first time in the state's history, Floridians' per-capita income exceeded that of the average American.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the great recession, did not find that growth-management policies such as Florida's were the cause of the collapse. Rather, the collapse of Florida's housing market — like those in other Sunbelt states such as Arizona, California and Nevada — was driven by a variety of factors including rampant speculation, lax regulatory policies, weak underwriting standards and old-fashioned greed and fraud. These were the same causes of Florida's crashes in the 20th century, before the state's growth-management laws were enacted.From 1990 to 2000, Florida added, on average, more than 100,000 housing units per year. But in the years leading up to 2007, housing starts exceeded 200,000 units per year. On top of this, between 2007 and 2010, 660,000 more residences of all types were authorized to be constructed, as well as more than 6 billion square feet of commercial and institutional space, most of which has not been built.
Florida's new anti-government political order "seized the moment" in 2011, securing draconian cuts to Florida's conservation lands acquisition program and growth-management laws and sharp reductions in the budgets and staff of the agencies responsible for enforcing them. Like Mr. Cox, the blame for Florida's economic woes was pinned on these laws, saying they created an unfavorable climate for business.Florida's growth rate, which slowed dramatically during the great recession, is now well on track to return to the rate of 1,000 new residents a day. Florida's population grew by about 232,000 between 2011 and 2012. During the 21st century, Florida's population is projected to conservatively double and could triple to more than 50 million.
But due to the 2011 changes, Florida is less prepared to deal with the impacts of growth. Sound planning remains essential to protect Florida's economic health, abundant natural resources and quality of life, which attract new residents and visitors to our state.Throughout much of its history, Florida has been treated as nothing more than a commodity, to be bought and sold regardless of the consequences. Florida's laws calling for smarter, more compact development patterns brought more stability and predictability through the wise use of land and water resources.
Instead of being distracted by false diagnoses of the causes of the great recession and thus repeating those mistakes, it is time for Florida to learn from the past and prepare for the future.Florida is a treasure. The Sunshine State will continue to attract more residents. Our generation of Floridians lives on one of the planet's most congenial peninsulas. We have an obligation to assure that our children, grandchildren and beyond can live in an even more prosperous and attractive Florida.
Bob Graham was Florida's governor from 1979-86 and a U.S. senator from 1987-2005. He was a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.
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