Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Great Scott! Did He Just Say That?!

This week marks the first for many newly-elected officials to be sworn into office.  If you’re a messaging-sensitive person like me, and a policy wonk, you can glean a lot from the speeches given at inauguration ceremonies.  The first speech from a newly-elected governor is often a sort of “heads up” to the legislature as well as the constituents.  You have to read between the lines a bit, due to the broad differences in understanding of the audience.  So, I’m as interested in what they do say as what they don’t say. 

I tuned in to watch Governor Rick Scott’s first speech in Tallahassee this morning and was pleasantly surprised at the content of his remarks which were full of talk of reform.  While it appeared the teleprompters weren’t working (he had to use a paper script), he still delivered his speech humbly and with notable sincerity.  I don’t know Governor Scott, but I am convinced he really wants to accomplish the items he outlined in his speech.  And, since I know at least one of the people being considered for his staff, I believe him when he says he is trying to get the best people around him to get this job done.  Here’s what stood out to me…

His focus was heavily on bringing employers to Florida.  He talked about reducing regulatory burdens, litigation costs, and taxation.  And, while Governor Scott gave specific examples of how his administration planned to take on this “axis of unemployment,” he made one statement that was extremely encouraging.  It might have slipped past you if you weren’t listening for it.  I was.

He said they can’t “guarantee” businesses profitability, but would give them a “fair chance” at being profitable.  Allow me to decode…

A lot of what the business community asks the state government for in terms of policy undermines the overall health of the employment opportunities in the state.  As a group business may ask for lower taxes, reduced regulation, and protection from unfounded litigation.  This is all good and creates a healthy economy by enticing would-be employers to the state and also boosts hiring with companies already in the state across all industries.  But, individually, they come asking for subsidies to “guarantee” their profits, regardless of the viability of their business plans.  (They also come asking for help driving out their competitors in ploys that are often thinly veiled as requests to be better regulated in order to protect consumers.  But that is a topic for another day).

You might better know these “guarantees” as “corporate welfare.”  On a purely philosophical note, that isn’t the proper role of government.  But, in practical application, it is a nasty way for politicians to secure support from specific business sectors while pushing the burden of the costs of government onto other employers and individual taxpayers directly and indirectly through loss of jobs and lower pay.  The reality is that if one business gets a big break in its own costs from the government, then someone else is going to pick up that slack.  Everyone else’s costs go up to pay for that favor to one. Cost shifting of this sort goes on all over the place and is nicely termed “incentives” by the economic development crowd.  It prevents lowering of the overall tax burden on all employers and individuals, normally hitting small business especially hard. 

So, when Governor Scott specifically made this remark, it seemed he was putting everyone listening closely on notice.  Florida, as he said, is moving toward being the best place to be an employer.  But, what he also said was that they would have a healthy business environment that gives an equal chance for everyone.  And, that means no special favors for one at the expense of the rest.  I, for one, found this to be both encouraging and courageous.  Let’s hope he gets those “good people” needed to drive his agenda!

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