Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board
Tampa Bay Times
Jan. 4, 2017
From the Tampa Bay Times editorial board:
The Florida Legislature’s message is clear: Tallahassee knows best, and cities and counties should sit down and shut up.
Like bullies on the block, lawmakers are more determined than ever to control what happens in the neighborhood rather than leave those decisions to local county commissioners, mayors and city council members. They want to decide whether red light cameras are banned, write the rules for cutting down trees and dictate how county jails deal with undocumented immigrants. They want to oversee short-term rentals in every corner of the state, restrict tools for reviving poor neighborhoods and determine where professional sports stadiums can be built and how they can be funded. They even want to make it as hard as possible for local officials to borrow money or rely on local property taxes to pay for local priorities.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran leads the assault. He implores local governments to stay in their lane when it’s the Legislature hogging the road. He implausibly claims state legislators, with their fat campaign accounts and strong ties to special-interest lobbyists, are closer to the people than city council members or county commissioners. The Land O’Lakes Republican, who once tried to force an elected county mayor system of government down Pasco County’s throat, sees the Legislature as all powerful.
That may have been true in the dark ages, when Florida was just another southern backwater and Disney World didn’t exist, moon launches from Cape Canaveral were fantasy and the Legislature was controlled by a handful of powerful white men from rural counties. But in 1968, voters approved a revised Florida Constitution that provides for home rule. Instead of local governments being required to seek permission from the Legislature to do practically anything, local governments are granted broad authority to act on virtually any issue unless it is specifically prohibited by state law.
A half-century later, Corcoran and his cronies are turning back the clock and chipping away at that constitutional authority granted by the voters and spelled out in state law. Perhaps the most audacious example is legislation that would pre-empt local governments from approving any regulations affecting business.
No city or county could have approve any local ordinance, fee or permit affecting any business unless the state allowed it first. The legislation didn’t get far last year, but it could resurface this year.