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Danger: Energy Economic Zone Ahead

Government is famous for wasting time and money all at the expense of taxpayers. The greatest waste has been attributed to the “green movement” and its efforts to save the planet by controlling human activities, such as emissions of CO2. This political and uniquely unscientific movement has led the Florida legislature to create comprehensive planning legislation, implement caps on carbon emissions and most recently create an Energy Economic Zone (EEZ) pilot project.

Sarasota County has established by ordinance an Energy Economic Zone. The first public hearings on the EEZ pilot project in Sarasota County are being held in September. Citizens and business will learn what the EEZ is all about. But what is end purpose of an EEZ? What will be accomplished by establishing an EEZ in Sarasota County?

My answer: The greatest expansion of local government power over your and my pursuit of happiness.

Here are ten reasons why I believe the Sarasota County EEZ will fail:

1. Any governmental expansion of power always meets with stiff public resistance and the EEZ is meeting stiff resistance. The EEZ has been denounced with bi-partisan support in Sarasota County. Neighborhood associations, anti-growth proponents and Democrats are standing shoulder to shoulder with TEA Party groups, 912 Project members and the Republican Party of Sarasota Executive Committee to denounce this project and its attempt to control the lives of citizens.

2. Economic zones do not work. County Commissioner Nora Patterson in an e-mail to an opponent of the EEZ states, “Our existing enterprise zone [in Newtown] is truly a depressed area and I can tell you in advance that the overall situation has not improved, in fact quite the opposite given the economic downturn.” So Commissioners know that enterprise zones do not work from the Newtown failure. Why throw good money after bad? Because it feels good to do so. The EEZ is being driven by ideology, not by any proven method to create jobs or expand the economy in Florida.

3. One of the purposes of the EEZ is to create energy efficiencies and thereby reduce energy usage. This is a FALSE premise as greater efficiency leads inextricably to greater energy usage. This phenomenon is called the “rebound effect”. Increasing the efficiency of lighting encourages us to illuminate more. This means that we need more energy, not less to meet future demand, expected to increase by 30% over the next decade. The EEZ concept is a fallacy, even if the five sitting County Commissioners believe in this fallacy, it is still a fallacy.

4. The incentives provided in the ordinance as currently written are not defined. This makes the ordinance open to broad interpretation by staff in its implementation. We have experienced what happens when bureaucrats are given the leeway to implement policy in Florida. This has happened with numeric water standards being imposed on the state by the Environmental Protection Agency. Placing Draconian standards on water quality to save us from ourselves. Standards that cannot be met!

5. The incentives are front loaded without regard to clearly defined end results. Under the current proposed ordinance businesses would be awarded incentive grants in addition to tax abatements for job creation. The business would promise to create new “green jobs”. This is a failed model, see reason #2 above. You and I do not pay a business until the job is done. In this case County government is so trusting that they will pay upfront for a promise of future job creation. The County has tried this recently with Sanborn studios. Sanborn Studios closed its Lakewood Ranch facility in December 2011 after just one year in operation. The company that promised to produce Hollywood movies, TV shows and create more than 100 jobs in Sarasota got a $650,000 grant from Sarasota County. It is good to learn from experience right?

6. The EEZ is “crony capitalism” writ large. Crony capitalism is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, and so forth. The proposed ordinance establishing an EEZ is the ultimate example of crony capitalism. Government picks the winners and losers, not the free markets. This always leads to corruption and political favoritism.

7. Government does not create jobs! The great myth is that government can via incentives create something from nothing. Jobs are created only when a business cannot meet the market demand for its products or services. That is an economic fact. What can government do to help create a market for a product or service? Nothing, absolutely nothing. What government can do best is to do the least. That is to say government is best that governs least. Protecting property rights is the role of government.

8. All of the County Commissioners are Republicans dedicated to limited government and the U.S. Constitution. The Republican Party of Sarasota Executive Committee passed a resolution condemning “local ‘sustainable development’ policies such as Smart Growth, Wildlands Project, Resilient Cities, Regional Visioning Projects, and other ‘Green’ or ‘Alternative’ projects.” The EEZ falls squarely into all of these categories! A copy of the full resolution was presented to each Commissioner.

9. The County’s attempt to establish an EEZ has led to at least one law suit. According to Kathy Attunes, “The EEZ and attached Enterprise Zone incentives are separate statutes. It can be argued that the Enterprise Zone statutes exist independently of the EEZ statute (377.809), and these state Enterprise Zone statutes apply independent of any local eligibility requirements and a $300,000 cap. The EEZ green standards and $300,000 cap are not outlined in the Enterprise Zone statutes; the statutes do not mirror each other. We are concerned that the EEZ statute and linked Enterprise Zone incentives are in conflict, which potentially sets the County up for litigation brought by businesses who have met Enterprise Zone criteria but not County EEZ standards. We do not want the BCC to proceed with a program that opens the door to a flood of untargeted Enterprise Zone tax breaks, and the possibility of having local control negated by state statute.” I agree more litigation will follow.

10. Finally, this is just bad public policy and a waste of taxpayer money.

There are many other reasons why the EEZ is bad policy for Sarasota County but in the interest of brevity I have listed only my top ten.

I do not need nor want government telling me how to save energy. I am perfectly able doing that on my own. If I wish to waste energy then I will pay an economic price for that behavior. That is how personal freedom and free markets work. Government forcing choices upon me is morally wrong. The EEZ is morally wrong!