The Florida House of Representatives leadership is holding the state's lead planning agency hostage in the waning days of the session. By refusing to act on bills reenacting the Department of Community Affairs for another 10 years under the state's sunset review process, the House is trying to stack the deck in favor of the building industry. And taxpayers and residents lose when developers are allowed to build without regard for the public costs of their projects.
The House's stance is a slap to the public and DCA Secretary Tom Pelham and his employees, who are the last defense against the irresponsible growth that crowds schools, damages the environment and ruins natural resources. Legislation fully reauthorizing the DCA for another 10 years - as recommended by the state's Joint Sunset Committee and the House's own Government Accountability Act Council - was approved 38-0 Thursday by the Senate. But in the full House, reenactment legislation isn't moving. This inaction speaks loudly about the grip of the development lobby and the ridiculous belief of many lawmakers that eliminating development controls will boost the economy.
The economic downturn exposed Florida's dependence on nonstop subdivision construction as an unsustainable Ponzi scheme. But the House leadership is in denial. Some observers wonder whether the inaction is a stalling tactic to be used during budget negotiations with the Senate or if this sets the slate for the department to be eliminated next year, when Rep. Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, takes over as speaker. He has consistently sought to dismantle sensible growth laws. The only good news in this sorry episode is that the DCA won't die this session if the House members continue to ignore it. It will roll over for at least one more year. But next year, it will be in limbo again, making it more vulnerable to the political muscle of the development industry.
As we've stressed before, Florida needs this agency, whose chief responsibility is to ensure that communities don't violate their own comprehensive land use plans whenever a developer proposes a sprawling project. To eliminate its review authority would doom the state to the same kind of scattershot development that has proved so costly to taxpayers. Though growth has slowed to a crawl in many areas, communities haven't let that stop them from continuing to revise their plans, the road maps for growth. DCA's expertise is needed to review these amendments and ensure they are appropriate.
The House's inaction could backfire. It reinforces the claims of Amendment 4 proponents that state and local officials can't be trusted to protect citizens from reckless development projects. The Hometown Democracy proposal would mandate that amendments to a comprehensive land use plan go before voters if first approved by local governments, a cumbersome requirement that could shut down growth. The best way for lawmakers to counter such arguments is to affirm the stature of Florida's essential growth regulator. But Cannon and company appear intent on giving developers anything they want. Lawmakers in the House who have their eyes closed and fingers in their ears have some explaining to do for keeping the Department of Community Affairs in limbo. They need to reenact this vital state agency.
All Floridians concerned about the future of their state should contact Cretul and Cannon to urge them to use their leadership positions to assure the reauthorization of DCA in the 2010 legislative session. You can reach them here.