Flanked by lawmakers and business leaders in front of the Senate Chamber, Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson unveiled the groups 2019 Jobs and Competititveness Agenda Tuesday.
“When you think about the 49 other states, they all want to be like Florida,” he said. “Florida is already a $1 trillion economy. If we were a country we would be the 17th largest economy in the world.”
Though Florida is doing well in most metrics — more than half of voters say the state’s headed in the right direction — the Florida Chamber says there is a lot of work to do before Florida is truly prepared for the 5 million new residents and 50 million more annual visitors who are expected by 2030.
The priorities: lower the cost of living, lower the cost of doing business and focus on smart growth in the state’s workforce and its infrastructure projects.
The Chamber said legal reforms were key to lowering costs for Florida residents and businesses, with curbing “assignment of benefits,” or AOB, being a major spoke in that plan.
AOB is a process where policyholders sign over their insurance benefits to a contractor or attorney in exchange for a quick repair. The party on the receiving end of those benefits often attempts to collect a payout from insurers in court.
The volume of AOB cases has skyrocketed in recent years, and the Chamber says putting an end to those lawsuits would reverse the trend of rising homeowner’s insurance premiums, thereby reducing the cost of living for Florida residents.
“Ninety percent of homeowners are facing a rate increase on their insurance premium,” Wilson said before asking lawmakers to “put the long-term before the short-term” and pass an AOB reform bill.
Making more “common sense reforms to Florida’s broken legal system” could curb the prevalence of “gotcha” lawsuits and save Florida families and businesses from paying a $4,442 annual “tax” by way of a higher cost of living. It would also have the added benefit of getting the state out of the bottom-tier in legal climate rankings, the Chamber says.
Other pro-business measures backed by the group include slashing the sales tax businesses pay on leases. Florida is the only state that levies the tax and though it’s gone down, lowering it further — or phasing it out completely — is among the recommendations in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ economic plan.
When it comes to growth, Wilson said policymakers need to equip Floridians with the skills they need for the jobs that are available. Florida Chamber data shows there are currently 335,000 Floridians looking for jobs and 273,700 open jobs in the state. Focusing on skills training and boosting access and attainment to postsecondary education could help both of those numbers.
Infrastructure is important, too, and something the Florida Chamber said should be viewed from a higher altitude rather than comparing Florida to neighboring states Georgia and Alabama.
“I want to remind everyone that free enterprise works, but free enterprise isn’t free,” Wilson said. “I mentioned other states … we’re competing with other countries. States are jealous that we have the infrastructure that we do and they’re awed that we’re asking for more.”
Florida infrastructure improvements recommended by the Chamber include adequate funding for all modes of transportation, a focus on renewable energy, implementing sustainable water management policies and taking a proactive approach to planning and development.
The full 2019 Jobs and Competititveness Agenda is available on the Florida Chamber website.