Governor's race: Whose plan for new jobs will work?

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's gubernatorial wannabes are confronting the worst economic climate in modern history with big plans — but precious few details — on how they would create more jobs.

With the governor's race shaping up this summer as a policy-void of television attack ads, two of the three major candidates are floating jobs plans aimed at cutting regulatory red tape, slashing business taxes and giving tax breaks to fledgling high-tech ventures.

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum is boasting that "low taxes and regulatory relief" will help cut into the state's abysmal 11.7 percent unemployment rate. He wants to beef up the amount of "venture capital" flowing into Florida to finance startup research efforts and link 20 high-tech companies to venture capitalists by 2014.

All three of the candidates are pledging to make Florida more "business-friendly" by reducing the time it takes employers to get government building permits. But in interviews, none of the campaigns would offer specifics about which regulations they want to loosen.

Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is casting herself as the Tallahassee outsider and pledging to cut "government waste" to pay for tax breaks to create jobs. She wants to create a "small business" ombudsman within the Governor's Office.

Her tax-cutting proposals come courtesy of a seven-page "business plan" thin on details about how much the tax breaks would cost or how many jobs they would create.

And Republican legislators scoff that Sink can find $700 million in "waste" — doing things like pinching paper clips or reducing middle management in state government — when lawmakers have spent four years slashing billions of dollars from the state budget.

Meanwhile, GOP newcomer Rick Scott, a Naples millionaire who has sunk more than $17 million into his campaign during the past 10 weeks, has not finalized his own jobs plan as he attempts to sell his past corporate experience as a tonic to incumbent-weary voters.

All the candidates are downplaying the fiscal disaster brewing in Tallahassee, where policymakers next year will inherit a $6 billion budget hole thanks to the "flame-out" of the federal stimulus cash. The funding shortfall has the potential to wreak havoc on the campaign promises of whoever wins.

Both Sink and McCollum are predicting economic growth from tax cuts will essentially pay for their proposals through higher tax revenues.

"We have to be smart about the kinds of incentives we do offer. The whole idea is that when you provide incentives for small business, then that creates jobs. Those jobs create a better economy," Sink said.

"That puts money back in state coffers."

McCollum has been touting his own 20-page economic plan, endorsed by business magazine publisher Steve Forbes, that he says would create 500,000 jobs in six years.

One of its linchpins is cutting Florida's 5.5 percent corporate income tax rate to 4.5 percent, which would reduce tax collections by $282 million next year.

Both Sink and McCollum want to eliminate corporate income taxes altogether for startup companies. Sink's plan would "defer" the taxes for three years while McCollum's would waive them entirely for 10 years.

But neither campaign has assessed the financial hit to state coffers from doing so. And Florida is already the 47th lowest-taxed state per-capita in the country, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.

"We've lost 900,000 jobs and have one of the lowest tax burdens in the country. Making taxes even lower is not in any way a sure-proof way to create new jobs. We're already low," said John Hall, executive director of the progressive Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Another piece of McCollum's jobs plan is freezing property-tax-millage rates for cities and counties for two years, so local governments don't try to balance their budgets by raising taxing rates as property values continue to slide.

After two years, McCollum wants lawmakers to adopt a property-tax cap that would allow taxes to climb only as much as inflationary pressures on consumers and businesses.

"We need to have this timeout and hopefully two years from now we can come up with a better plan," McCollum said.

But cities and counties criticize that idea. Florida League of Cities lobbyist Rebecca O'Hara says the freeze would hamstring local governments' ability to respond to the Gulf oil disaster.

"If that's the kind of policy someone wants to propose, it sounds like they should be running for mayor," she said.

For the most part, the candidates are banking on keeping their proposals generic enough to avoid flip-flops or failures down the road.

Most of the ideas are repackaged policy proposals from past governors and Legislatures.

Both McCollum and Sink want to provide tax credits for research and development investments similar to the break offered by the federal government and 31 other states — a concept that the state's economic-development arm, Enterprise Florida, has pushed in the Legislature for two years to no avail.

Some are already realized or ever-evolving ideological aims, such as scaling back lawsuits, cutting government "red tape" or finding government "waste."

But Florida candidates for governor have been talking about cutting permitting delays for businesses for decades. Like Sink, McCollum's camp insists it will move quickly after the election to look at government regulations and where they can be reduced.

Lawmakers tried the same thing last year, but got nowhere.

Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop agreed both camps were staying "out of the weeds" in order to avoid getting bogged down over nuances of particular polices that can be hammered out if they win.

"Ultimately, the governor can propose but the legislature appropriates," said Bishop. "You want to get deep enough into the issue so that people grasps you understand where the problem areas are."

Aaron Deslatte can be reached at or 850-222-5564.

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