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    A Times Editorial

    Retire to Florida, we're cheap


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 22, 2003

    The intentions may be good and the information-gathering valuable, but the economic development formula being pitched by the Destination Florida Commission is, at best, anachronistic. Sell sun and low taxes to lure out-of-state retirees? Why not offer free swampland as part of the deal?

    The commission, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to analyze the dropoff in retirees moving to the state, can be credited with raising awareness about the great contributions older citizens make to their state. But its tone of alarm is puzzling. "Due to higher mortality, it is impossible to sustain Florida's age pyramid without significant mature migration from other states," the commission reports. "Without these migratory inflows, Florida will have an age structure similar to the nation's within 20 years. . . . The sustainability of Florida's growth depends on its ability to continue to attract mature residents."

    The "migratory inflows" to which the commission refers have occurred with people of all ages, and they have strangled the state. They are, in part, why many roads can't handle the traffic, why drinking water is scarce, why landfills are overflowing, why the Everglades is choking. Many of these people were lured by the promise of low taxes, turning otherwise normal decisions about new roads or new schools into animated showdowns on tax policy. The commission's own report engages in that kind of tax pandering. After noting that Florida is "a low tax-burden state" and that elderly newcomers rated low taxes as only 14th on a list of reasons to move here (sunshine was first), the commission nonetheless said the Legislature should freeze property tax increases for anyone who is 55 or older and phase out the intangibles tax.

    The commission characterizes retirees as an industry to be recruited and says they represent the "engine of economic growth." But real estate developers have used those arguments for years. Slowed population growth is not necessarily harmful to Florida, which is a point that even Bentley Lipscomb, state director for AARP, acknowledges.

    "The one thing nobody ever wants to mention is that you and I could not water our lawn in the near past," Lipscomb told a reporter. "Does it make sense that the state is going to spend money to encourage people to come down here when we have to build a desalination plant on Tampa Bay in order to provide drinking water for the people we have now?"

    Florida already has done enough damage trying to sell itself cheap.

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