Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Bringing Business To The State?

Yesterday I heard Charlie Crist, confronted about his lavish, taxpayer-funded trip to Europe, defend the expenditure based upon the claim that the purpose of the trip was to boost economic development for his state, and second that his predecessor had taken similar trips. The second argument is hollow - the fact that the kid before you stuck his hand in the candy jar doesn't justify your doing the same thing. So the question becomes, do junkets of this kind actually generate foreign investment in the state? Crist can't make the case:
Crist's office said the countries he visited combined have more than 900 companies in the state employing 50,000 Floridians and have invested nearly $6 billion in our economy.
The businesses are already in Florida. Crist makes no argument that they were threatening to leave, or that even a one of them cared about his visit.

The organization that "arranged" the trip purports that "Florida corporations made $5.5 million in sales and laid the groundwork for an additional $96 million in deals and 2,245 new high-tech jobs during the trip, according to Enterprise Florida, the company that arranged the trip." Assuming that to be true, and assuming that the business executives who accompanied Crist could not have landed the deals without traveling to Europe - pretty big assumptions - are we to believe that Crist was personally involved in most of those deals? Some of them? Any of them?

I single out Crist not because he's exceptional in this regard - this type of trip is taken by members of both parties at all levels of government. But I do think it's fair to ask, how often (if ever) does the presence of the politicians on these junkets actually benefit the people of their state? Or when these junkets are purported to be educational - to teach local politicians and administrators how things work in other countries - how often do we see change when they return? Any change at all?

I expect that the business executives and lobbyists who traveled with Crist anticipated a benefit from their close contact with him, but that's just another form of "good old boy" / "smoke filled room" dealing, and it can be done at home for a lot less money.

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