Department of Community Affairs should not be cut

In 1986, the Florida Department of Community Affairs was born because of rampant and uncontrolled growth in the state. It will die this year at the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled government because of simple-minded political motives.

The department, which manages land and housing planning, population growth and emergency management, will have its fate sealed when Gov. Rick Scott signs the 2011-12 budget into law. The department was founded for a reason and the idea of eliminating it is a mistake.

Census data reveal that between 2000 and 2010, Florida’s population grew by nearly 3 million – an increase of 17.64 percent. Florida was one of the fastest-growing states in the country and is on track to, in the 2020 census, overtake New York as the country’s third most populous state.

While Florida thrives on growth, the news is not necessarily good. The influx of residents that the state is slated to receive will create land development problems, problems that the Division of Community Affairs was specifically designed to manage.

Urban sprawl is already a mainstay of Florida living, but now stands to become much worse without an oversight and planning agency. It adds commute time, damages the environment, drives up land prices and drives local governments crazy by creating a serious need for new infrastructures such as sewers, electric lines, hospitals and schools. These types of projects take years to complete and come at the expense of taxpayers.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, an Orlando area resident stands to pay $2,708 each year in taxes for roads and other government services. Should Orlando find a way to cut down on sprawl it could, through 2025, save $15.84 billion on roadways and $8.8 billion on water and sewers.

Citizens in Tampa and across the state pay similar prices for urban sprawl and unregulated growth. If the Department of Community Affairs is abolished, the problem looks to get much worse in the coming years, especially in the face of significant population expansion.

It’s unfortunate that Republicans in the State House have chosen to pursue a brazen deregulation doctrine without any regard to basic facts of life in Florida or governance in general. While their goal in ending the agency may be cutting taxes or spurring economic growth, the decision will have the opposite effect. It will create a need to raise taxes, increase food and gas prices and stifle the economy.