In the state of Florida, in the first quarter, there were more than 374,000 homes in various stages of foreclosure. Foreclosures are rising quickly (please click 'read more')
and yet permits have been granted in Florida for more than 630,000 new residential units and 480 million square feet of nonresidential space. In the entire nation, total housing starts have plunged from the 2.3 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) peak of January 2006 all the way to the 458,000 of April 2009. To be clear about this: Florida builders have obtained permits, despite the housing market crash, for more houses than are under construction in the entire nation.
Despite this astounding indicator of mindlessness, much of the legislative session was spent trying to eliminate the agency charged with growth management in the state (The Florida Department of Community Affairs) and to pass a badly flawed bill that is entirely mis-named "The Community Reinvestment Act" (SB 360).
If the Florida Chamber of Commerce represented the economic interest of Floridians, it would have strongly opposed this bill. Yesterday, I tried to find out how the Florida Chamber of Commerce rates its legislators, tying its 2009 Legislative Scorecard Executive Summaryto votes on specific bills. Usually, when organizations put out legislative scorecards, they make it easy for the public to understand the grading criteria by linking ratings and votes on bills like SB 360. For the public, the Florida Chamber the legislative scorecard only links to broad chamber guidelines; for instance "Limit Regulation and Streamline the Permitting Process".
Although the public doesn't know what the Chamber position was on SB 360, my guess is: this bill would have gone nowhere without the Chamber's support.
SB 360 is the worst piece of legislation to come down the pike in a long time. The state's economy is in a ditch precisely because of blind support by the Chamber and other industries for suburban sprawl and growth-at-any-cost. SB 360 gives a free pass to more sprawl, to exactly the same special interests who created the crisis in the first place, represented as they may be by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and its business allies representing land speculators, contractors, builders and developers.
The corrective action is for a veto by Gov. Charlie Crist. Beyond that, if I were king I would mandate that the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and all its affiliates sit down in one place at one time and read two books to the end: "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond and "Paving Paradise: Florida's vanishing wetlands and the failure of no-net loss" by St. Pete Times writers Matthew Waite and Craig PIttman. THEN, hold a Chamber Goals Conference.
But common sense welded to fiduciary responsibility is too much to ask of a lobbying group that supported Senate President Jeff Atwater to be president of the Florida Senate, now running as the Republican candidate as the state's next CFO. In 2009 Atwater, along with other top legislative officers, received a 100 percent rating from the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The Miami Herald reports, today, "A bank where Senate president and Republican candidate for state CFO Jeff Atwater worked has been named one of the seven weakest in Florida."