Thursday, March 16, 2017

Frontal Attack on Home Rule

The common wisdom among Republicans, me included, is that the best government is the government closest to home. Who better than city or county officials to know how businesses should be regulated, funds allocated, growth managed? Where better to take voter input than in your own back yard, where workshops and town hall meetings give the guy next door his turn at the microphone?

Home rule has been a sacred tenet in Florida. But it's slipping away. In past years, loss of autonomy has been gradual -- a drip, drip wearing away of city and county control, slowly transferring power to Tallahassee.

But now that drip, drip is about to become a flood. Home rule may soon be a thing of the past. Three horrendous bills are making their way through the legislative process this year -- one of them, sorry to say, authored by our own Kathleen Passidomo.

House Bill 17 (Fine, R-Brevard) is a two-by-four to the forehead, undisguised and arrogant. It would transfer to the state the right to regulate businesses, professions and occupations. Period. The language of the bill is that broad. All regulations of local businesses would take place in Tallahassee. Locations of gas stations, massage parlors, shopping centers would be decided by distant bureaucrats.
Property values be damned.

Senate Bill 1158 (Passidomo, R-District 28) is almost as bad. It would prevent local governments from enacting rules or ordinances that have an adverse impact on economic growth, employment or investment. Again, remarkably broad language that covers just about everything. And, of course, "adverse impact" would be decided by Tallahassee.

PCB WMC 17-02 is still another attempt to ravage home rule. It would rip away local taxing authority by forcing city and local governments to spend down money in special funds before increasing property taxes. And, just as bad, it would restrict special taxes (think landscaping, Conservation Collier, new recreational complex) if property taxes had been increased within the past three years. Why, you ask, should this be any of Tallahassee's business? Why indeed.

We are told the rationale for HB 17 and SB 1158 is that the 67 Florida counties could enact 67 different sets of business regulations, gumming up inter-county commerce and stifling economic growth. Responding to a Collier Citizens Council email opposing SB 1158, Senator Passidomo complained, "Local governments have passed legislation that negatively impact jurisdictions outside their area or impede commerce, trade or labor beyond their boundaries."

As examples, she cites (don't laugh) use of Styrofoam cups and plates, shopping cart regulations, sale of helium balloons, retail sale of cats and dogs. Included in this comedic potpourri is one troublesome example: Establishment of chain retail stores. Suppose the City of Naples doesn't want (my examples, not Passidomo's) a twenty-seven-pump gas station on 5th Avenue or a block-long self-storage building on 3rd Street. Tough. The City of Naples doesn't make the call. Tallahassee does.

Passidomo said SB 1158 "is not intended to take away local authority or local control over whatever local governments can do within their own jurisdictions." But the bill's broad language puts the lie to that disclaimer. An attorney friend said page 4 of SB 1148 has a neatly disguised Trojan Horse. I don't think it's much of a disguise. To me it looks like a clear dismantling of home rule.

Joining the Collier Citizens Council in opposing this power grab is the Collier County Presidents Council, another civic group concerned about residents and neighborhoods getting the shaft. Interesting we haven't heard from the League of Women Voters.

We have heard from friends on the Naples City Council who said they are "furious" with Passidomo. And top officials of Collier County government said they are "very much aware" of these bills and are working with the Florida Association of Counties to defeat them.

Perhaps enough punch-back will have an effect. Our lawmakers should be aware voters have long memories. A short-term legislative victory could have a long-term Pyrrhic effect at the ballot box.

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