Ask the Governor

850 readers pose questions to Florida Governor Charlie Crist on College, the Economy and Being Green.

Q: You have always been very pro-tourism and pro-beaches, especially when it comes to beach renourishment. Yet the funding for those programs seems to be diminishing. Beaches bring tourists here and we really are a tourist community. We have 68 beaches in Florida that have beach renourishment programs, but when funding for these programs is cut, how do you intend to supplement tourism dollars that we might end up losing? — Paula Ramsey Pickett, Executive Director, Gulf County Tourist Development Council

Crist: The beaches of Northwest Florida are the prettiest beaches in the world. I discovered them initially as an FSU student. I remember when I ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998, I took a tour down U.S. 98 and just seeing those beaches, with that sugar white sand, it was extraordinary. I am a big fan of beach renourishment funding and programs. It relates not just to the natural beauty of the beach itself but the magnet those beaches are for tourists from all over the world. It’s important for us, environmentally and economically. The funds are a challenge. I’m hopeful the (federal) stimulus package will give us an opportunity to have more funds than originally contemplated, so hopefully we’ll have funds (for) additional renourishment projects.

Q: With regard to the increasing costs of higher education, it is easy to predict there will be more demand for undergraduates to start their college careers at a two-year college. Is there any effort underway to make a more seamless transfer from junior colleges into state universities, such as curricula coordination or any other means? — Robert P. Walsh, Associate in Research, FSU/National High Magnetic Field Lab

Crist: Since 2002 there has been an ongoing program that allows a lot of community colleges, now termed ‘state colleges,’ to have the opportunity to offer four-year degrees. It’s important to give every Floridian the opportunity to get a four-year degree as conveniently and as efficiently as possible. I know the Legislature has the same sentiment. Continuing on that path doesn’t do harm to our traditional universities, it only helps our citizens. So, I’m a proponent of continuing to have community colleges transform into state colleges to provide four-year degrees. In a growing state like Florida, where geography can be challenging, not everyone can get to Gainesville and the University of Florida

Q: When will your new small business loan program be available, and will the new plan benefit existing business as well as new start-up business? What is your intent that these loans be used for, infrastructure or creating new jobs? — Bill Zottoli, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network

Crist: This is a $10 million program. Small businesses qualify for it. This is a ray of hope, a lifeline that allows small businesses with 10 to 50 employees to get a $250,000 loan. These businesses are the ones that traditionally have the greatest potential for growth, and therefore creating additional jobs. This is critically important to try to stimulate small businesses, which really form the backbone of our economy. The program will be available in May and will be coordinated through the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.

Q: In his inaugural speech, President Obama asked Americans to sacrifice and act responsibly, including using natural resources more wisely. While Florida is progressive in its Green Efforts for business and government, what are some of the specific things you would ask of the average Florida citizen? — Danielle Brannock Foster, Founder, Little Green Footprints

Crist: In junior high school, I was student body president and we had a dance to raise money for recycling. I gave the St. Petersburg City Council a $100 check and they … initially set up four stations to start recycling. That was in 1971. I think encouraging young people to do that sort of thing is very important because it becomes a part of your life for the rest of your life.
There are simple things we can all do in our daily lives. Go to the compact fluorescent light bulbs like we have here in the governor’s office. A lot of people have adopted recycling as a family project and that’s a healthy thing to do. And, having vehicles that burn less fuel or that utilize ethanol. At the state we are trying to convert all of our vehicles over to hybrids as quickly as we can. We’re trying to purchase more than 180,000 acres to restore the natural flow of the Everglades so we’ll save that national treasure forever.

If you would like to pose a question to the governor, we encourage you to submit it on our Web site, 850businessmagazine.com, under the FAQ section.