Kaufmann: Florida governor's recycled idea belongs in the trash

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Why is it that some of the worst ideas get recycled more often than cheap plastic?

A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott threw his weight behind a ridiculous proposal for a Jack Nicklaus Golf Trail, which would have put the state on the hook to build as many as five courses in state parks. It was difficult to identify a single redeeming element in that boneheaded legislation. It ignored the fact that Florida’s golf course market already is plainly oversaturated. The legislation envisioned a no-bid contract for Nicklaus. And the idea of building in state parks promised to provide one of those rare instances when the environmental lobby could stomp its feet and scream, yet actually seem reasonable.

So when the legislation was yanked in March 2011, we Floridians assumed we wouldn’t hear anything more about such folly. Ah, but apparently I’m getting naive in my old age.

In a recent interview with my colleague Alex Miceli, Scott said he continues to “look at programs to add more golf courses around the state with a variety of well-named golfers.” Scott added, “I tell people all the time, If you can show a return for state taxpayers, I’m very interested.”

Anyone who believes there is a true return on investment to be made through municipal or state-run golf courses is displaying willful ignorance. If you don’t believe me, Google phrases such as “municipal golf budget shortfall.” Then watch the hits just keep on coming. Despite all of the advantages government-run golf courses enjoy in terms of ready-made financing, other subsidies and no taxes, they almost invariably bleed red ink, often despite charging higher green fees than their privately run competitors.

(As an aside, I’d go so far as to argue that nothing would benefit the beaten-down golf market more than if all of the city-, county- and state-run courses across the country magically were to close tomorrow. But of course, that’s not going to happen. After all, why would deficit-ridden states and municipalities want to cut their losses on golf when they can continue to run up six- and seven-figure shortfalls?)

With regard to Scott, there’s a bigger philosophical point at issue. Scott ran for office billing himself as a proponent of free markets and a savvy businessman. His detractors are welcome to question Scott’s business bona fides. As for his entrepreneurial views, apparently he checked those at the governor's mansion door when he took office.

No serious advocate of free markets would even entertain the notion that the state of Florida has a role in building new golf courses, even in a healthy economic climate. Scott said he’s interested in a return on investment, but if there is money to be made, he should know that private capital will step forward.

In the meantime, Rick Scott needs to step back from this bad idea.

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