TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist has learned it’s hard to keep campaign promises made in good times when the economy suddenly tanks.
In June 2006, then Attorney General Crist rolled out a list of proposals to keep Florida’s economy strong. He hasn’t been able to check off many items except the big one — doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000 and allowing homeowners to take the Save Our Homes property tax cap with them when they move.
Crist hasn’t followed through on most others, including providing tax breaks for companies that give students postgraduate scholarships, making tax holidays for hurricane and back-to-school supplies permanent, cutting taxes on telephones and cable TV and committing to not raiding an affordable housing trust fund.
When Crist laid out his proposals, unemployment was 3.3 percent and the joke was that the state bird must be the crane because of all the construction cranes popping up on city skylines.
The state budget had been fast expanding each year and the housing market was booming.
Or, as Crist put it, “The economy hadn’t fallen off the cliff.”
Unemployment is now 10.7 percent, Florida has had one of nation’s the highest home foreclosure rates and the state budget has dropped by about $7 billion since Crist took office, from $73.6 billion to $66.5 billion.
Here’s a look at the economic policy proposals Crist laid out in his campaign and what happened with them:
n Property tax relief: Voters approved a constitutional amendment sought by Crist that doubled the homestead exemption to $50,000 except for school taxes and let homeowners take their the Save Our Homes property tax cap with them when they move.
n Litigation reform: Crist said he would seek lawsuit limits that protect employers while balancing citizens’ rights to sue. Crist signed a bill this year that caps attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases.
n Sales tax holidays: Crist said he wanted to permanently put into law annual sales tax holidays for back-to-school clothes and supplies and hurricane preparation. That never happened, and both tax holidays were scrapped this year.
n Hurricane preparation: Crist promised tax credits for retailers who made improvements to protect themselves from storms and who trained employees to be part of a statewide public-private network to distribute supplies after storms.
The Division of Emergency Management continues to work with private business on storm preparation, but no tax credits materialized.
n Telecommunications tax cut: Crist said he would seek to reduce taxes on cell phones, cable and satellite TV, and business and residential long-distance phone service. No specific proposal was ever introduced in the Legislature.
n “Sure Futures” program: Crist said he would implement a program to give tax credits to companies who provided postgraduate scholarships to students who promised to work in Florida after earning advanced degrees. None of the bills filed each of the past three years has passed.
n Affordable housing. Crist said he wanted to lift a cap placed on an affordable housing trust fund and said he wouldn’t raid the fund for other purposes. The cap is still in place and $578 million has been diverted from the fund since Crist took office. His office says he will again seek to remove the cap in his final year in office.
n Tourism and oil drilling: Crist promised to protect natural resources by “keeping oil rigs off of our shores.” Crist now is open to drilling.
n Energy diversity: Crist created the Florida Energy Office and pushed for clean and renewable energy sources, but he has failed to get the Legislature to go along with his proposal to require power companies to generate 20 percent of their electricity through clean sources by 2020.
That has kept many clean energy projects from getting off the ground. He has succeeded in requiring blended gasoline and offering tax rebates to promote solar energy.
n International Trade: Crist said he would continue Gov. Jeb Bush’s effort to make Miami the diplomatic headquarters for the Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA is a dead issue now.
n School construction cost cuts: Crist said he would make school construction more affordable by changing the way schools purchase materials. Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said construction costs have come down because contractors are desperate for business — not because of anything Crist has done.
n Education. Crist followed through on a promise when he signed a 2007 bill to expanded and redefine career and professional academies to help students earn standard high school diplomas, college credit and industry certification.
Crist’s office says the governor couldn’t have foreseen the drastic economic changes that forced him to rethink policy. That meant putting aside tax cuts while revenue shrank and considering other ideas.
“I’m disappointed. I wish we could have done all the things we wanted to, but the reality is we hit the largest global meltdown since the Great Depression,” Crist said, adding that he hopes to revisit some of his early goals during his last year in office.
“When a global economic meltdown is thrust upon you, it’s thrust upon you, but I’m of the mind that you never give up.”
Here’s a look at a few Crist policies and actions that weren’t part of his campaign proposals:
n Accelerate Florida: In August 2008, Crist announced a plan that would speed up several billion dollars in government construction projects like highways, schools and prisons. He also directed agencies to streamline regulations to help get projects moving quicker.
n Federal stimulus: Crist was one of the most prominent Republicans to push for support of the $787 billion Federal stimulus package, including an appearance with President Barack Obama.
n Tourism: Florida announced a new marketing campaign aimed at the United Kingdom, as well as its first national television tourism ad campaign.
Crist brought back an annual baseball dinner to promote spring training.
n Trade: Crist had trade missions to Israel and the Middle East, South America, the United Kingdom and Europe. Crist’s office credits the trips for generating more than $100 million in actual and expected sales for Florida companies and the decision by Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer to build a $51 million manufacturing facility in Melbourne.
n Budget: Crist vetoed more than $716 million from state budgets sent to him by the Legislature.
n Property taxes: Crist is pushing a 2010 constitutional amendment that would give first-time homebuyers a temporary property tax exemption of up to $100,000. He pushed lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the 2009 presidential primary ballot that created a 10 percent cap on the appreciation of non-homestead properties.
n Business development: Crist signed a bill this year providing $97.5 million in tax incentives for business investment in low-income areas that’s expected to create 1,600 jobs in its first year. Crist also created a pilot program this year that provides loans of up to $250,000 to up to 40 small businesses that expand and create new jobs. He also signed a bill that required local governments to justify their impact fees in an effort to reduce cost of development.