Economic Development Conference held in Tampa

05/19/08 Seán Kinane
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The Florida Economic Development Conference is taking place in Tampa this week. The focus of this gathering of business leaders is “Driving Transformation: Innovations fueling economic development.”

The conference, sponsored by the Florida Economic Development Council, featured a lunchtime panel Monday with current and former Florida lawmakers discussing the legislative session that ended this month. There was optimism about the state’s economy from Sen. Mike Fasano, despite the fact that recently Florida’s economy has been among the worst when it comes to the number of home foreclosures.

Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey and the Majority Whip, said the Legislature tried to preserve trust funds, especially the $9-billion transportation trust fund used mostly to build roads.

Will Weatherford, a representative from Wesley Chapel, called Fasano the “Godfather of Pasco County.” Weatherford said that financial incentives are tools to draw businesses to the state, but there are other important factors as well.

The panelists were asked about the privatization of roads, where the state would sell or lease a section of highway or bridge to a private company who would collect tolls from drivers.

Weatherford is the son-in-law of former Speaker of the House Allen Bense, who moderated the discussion, and used to work for him. Weatherford, a Republican, is considered a frontrunner to become House Speaker in 2012. He blamed the condition of the state’s infrastructure in part on fuel efficient vehicles.

The bill to bring a commuter rail line to Orlando and surrounding towns was defeated during the legislative session. Some people saw it as too generous to the rail company CSX. The deal would have the state pay CSX for rail lines near Orlando, pay for the construction of new CSX lines west of Orlando, and give CSX immunity from accidents on the commuter rail line, even when the company was at fault.

Fasano suggested that the several hundred people attending the conference email Gov. Charlie Crist to ask him not to veto the $2-million allocated to TBARTA, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.

In November’s general election, Floridians will be able to vote on nine possible amendments to the state’s constitution. Each needs 60-percent support to pass. One, the so-called “marriage protection amendment” would ban marriages between same-sex couples. Another was placed on the ballot by the Legislature and deals with whether real estate can be owned by noncitizens. The other seven were placed on the ballot by the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a group that meets only every 20 years and was chaired by Bense. The most contentious of the amendments might be what Bense called the “tax swap” in which property taxes would be lowered, with a likely increase in other taxes such as sales tax or a tax on services.

Bense said he is in the “road building business.” The Florida Economic Development Conference concludes Tuesday at the InterContinental Hotel in Tampa’s Westshore district.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Florida Economic Development Conference

Florida Economic Development Council Inc.

Previous WMNF coverage of Orlando commuter rail line / CSX

WMNF coverage of TBARTA funding / possible Crist veto

Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission

Florida’s possible constitutional amendments – 2008 general election

Rep. Mike Fasano

Rep. Will Weatherford

Rep. Thad Altman

Rep. Allen Bense

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