Cover Story - Jeb Bush
Jeb bush's record has esxtablished him as one of the most influential governors in Florida's modern history.
Bush's legacy on tax and financial issues is inconclusive. He's proud of having cut billions in various taxes as a matter of policy, including the likely final elimination of the intangibles tax by the end of the coming legislative session. But the absence of any broader, systematic changes in the state's tax structure means his legacy in this area may have a short lifespan, depending on how economic and political conditions in the state evolve.
Bush can claim to have improved the state's bond rating to AAA -- but meanwhile, the state's debt has doubled to $22 billion over the last 10 years, creating additional interest expenses that have to be paid for -- with tax money. And for all Bush's rhetoric about limited government and cutting taxes, he slowed growth in government rather than shrank it.
Bush, responding to Hurricane Dennis in July, set new standards in emergency preparedness and response during his tenure.
» Emergency Preparedness
In the most recent round of Pentagon base closings, Florida triumphed, netting 2,757 jobs even as many states lost posts and civilian and military personnel. Bush made saving Florida bases a priority and since the start of his governorship has met twice a year with Florida-based unit commanders. "This is something (former governor and senator) Bob Graham suggested I do," Bush says. The state widened roads, upgraded water and sewer capacity, and spent $745 million to buy land around bases to prevent encroachment -- all to make Florida bases places the Pentagon wouldn't want to shut. With no additional round of BRAC scheduled, Florida is likely to hang on to its current military jobs for some time.
Bush evolved a long way from the firebrand who singled out Florida's popular land-preservation program as a target for budget cuts when he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. After winning office in 1998, Bush delivered on promises to create a bold, $1-billion successor to Florida's land-preservation program that became known as Florida Forever. In 2000, he signed the state's Everglades Restoration Investment Act, committing Florida to half the $8-billion cost of restoration. As legislation moved through Congress, Bush spent enormous energy and political capital to make sure it passed. Meanwhile, Florida Forever saved more than a million acres of Florida since 2000.
Recently, Bush helped oversee the largest contiguous conservation land purchase in Florida history -- 74,000 acres of southwest Florida's Babcock Ranch. Bush also steered preservation policy in a new, and controversial, direction -- often relying on conservation easements that keep land in private hands, as with the Babcock Ranch deal, in which the state will preserve most of the land but a developer will hold onto 18,000 acres to build a new town. The legacy of such decisions won't be known for decades. It's fair to say Bush followed the pattern of every modern Florida governor, championing environmental protection and growth management unless the economic stakes were too high. Eric Draper, a policy official with Audubon of Florida, says Bush's record "has been more green than not."
Bush's growth-management record leaves less of a legacy. Proposed reforms in 2000 and 2001 to close loopholes in the system failed, and none of his proposals will leave as much growth-management impact as the 2005 water supply bill steered by Sen. Paula Dockery.