Matt Gaetz column: Florida’s limited government, one step at a time

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The following is from Matt Gaetz, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, District 4. He serves on the Rulemaking and Regulation Subcommittee and lives in Fort Walton Beach.

Just about two years ago, during my first campaign for state representative, I knocked on about 8,000 doors. I’ll admit it: Persuading Northwest Floridians to put their trust in a 27-year-old lawyer took some work.

Amid all the memories of hardworking people I met in our community, one stands out.

A man in his mid-70s answered the door, clearly miffed that I had interrupted what appeared to be his “pants free” Saturday.

“Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any,” he grunted while pulling his robe closed. As he pointed back up his driveway, directing my departure path, a faded tattoo appeared from under his sleeve. It looked nautical and clearly military. Must be Navy, I reasoned.

After explaining to Navy Guy that I was running for state representative, I asked if there was anything I could do to earn his vote.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I’d like you off my lawn and the government off my back.”

It seemed like a reasonable request. I thanked Navy Guy for his time and scurried down the driveway.

“One more thing,” he belted as I was nearly to the next house. “We have too many darn laws on the books. Before you get over there and pass more, how about you give us a break and repeal some?”

The door slammed shut, and an exchange that has profoundly impacted my politics from that point forward was over.

Navy Guy was right. Florida once was the envy of the nation — a place where retirees could live affordably in paradise; families could grow; businesses could thrive. Today, Florida’s unemployment rate exceeds the national average. Costs of living (particularly insurance and gasoline) continue to rise, and not a single Fortune 100 business calls Florida home.

With all my heart, I know we can do better — and the remedy is simple: more fiscal discipline and fewer laws.

Florida’s Administrative Code contains more than 30,000 rules and regulations, all of which are promulgated by non-elected bureaucrats. The Small Business Advisory Council estimates that compliance costs for small businesses are in the tens of millions of dollars. This money is extracted from the economy solely to serve the often arrogant and unpredictable whims of government.

Does Florida really need eight pages regulating the size of swimming pool drains? Why does the Department of Environmental Protection proscribe the exact size and shape of fishing reefs? Should the Department of Education spend $180,000 per year collecting data that nobody has ever needed or even reviewed? How about $1 million per year to regulate the drilling of holes in trees for woodpeckers?

Government gone wild must stop.

As in every prior year, this year I passed no legislation creating new government entitlements, fees, programs or taxes. We did, however, get a few things repealed.

HB 1263 repeals mandatory septic tank inspections that would have needlessly cost tens of thousands of Northwest Floridians hundreds of dollars for the government to dig around in their back yards.

HB 7055 repeals the authorization previously given to bureaucrats to make rules and regulations without any review by the Legislature or direction from the governor.

HB 903 streamlines permitting and stops government from sending those seeking permits on wild goose chases to other agencies.

HB 4001 repeals Florida’s version of “cap and trade.”

While my legislation completely repealing the burdensome ethanol gasoline mandate did not pass, my amendment to HB 7117 ends all penalties for those who sell non-ethanol gasoline, hopefully driving down its price and increasing availability in the free market. The Department of Agriculture soon will go online with a website showing consumers where they can buy non-ethanol gas.

By repealing burdensome rules and dismantling costly government-created “regulatory empires,” the Legislature was able to prioritize services to those who are truly the most vulnerable among us. Autism services were fully funded. Cancer research and care continues as a Florida priority. Those who care for physically and sexually abused children will have more resources at their disposal. A billion dollars in education funding is being restored to our schools.

There is much more to do. More taxes can be cut; more repeals are needed. Nobody deserves a pat on the back until Florida is again the safe harbor for free enterprise and the home base of economic freedom.

One step at a time, we’ll get there.

In the meantime, I hope Navy Guy is proud of the progress we’ve made. I’ll be knocking on his door again soon. I hope he gets a belt for that robe.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.