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Jax Daily Record Friday, Nov. 13, 200912:00 PM EST

State business org looking at future

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by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

Associated Industries of Florida pans itself as a kind of behind-the-scenes, business-friendly watchdog group. While its membership isn’t divulged, its leaders aren’t afraid to get in front of politicians or anyone who may be on the verge of making a decision or passing a law that could hurt Florida’s thousands of small businesses.

Since a vast majority of workers in the state are employed by small businesses, it’s safe to say AIF is also looking out for you. Its President and CEO Barney Bishop said as 2009 is winding down and 2010 looms, his Tallahassee-based organization is focusing on several things.

“Number one is the budget. Florida has a $2 billion-plus drop in revenue or more expenditures heading into next year,” said Bishop. “We need to look at further cuts and TaxWatch is working with us. We think we can find more savings without cutting services.”

Bishop said the second-most important item on AIF’s agenda in the coming year is property insurance. He said it’s imperative to level the playing field regarding premiums, but it will take time.

“It will take 8-9 years to get people to pay the insurance rates who live on the coast what they should be paying. That hurts,” he said.

His organization also supports drilling for oil off the coast of Florida, but only in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is a huge issue for us. We were the first business group to support drilling in 2005,” said Bishop. “Since we began polling people in 2006, the people of Florida substantially agree that we are all entitled to the natural resources in the Gulf and that we should have access to those resources.

“There is the potential for 100 percent of the royalties and revenue from leases to stay in Florida.”

Also on AIF’s radar are tort reform, unemployment insurance and numeric nutrient criteria. The latter of those three is an initiative designed to improve the quality of Florida’s waterways. Bishop says AIF certainly isn’t against improving water quality in the state. He said AIF opposes the initiative because it would hold the state responsible for assuring rivers such as the Suwanee and Apalachicola have low nutrient levels despite originating in other states.

“Florida would be the guinea pig and it will cost billions,” said Bishop. “The Feds would make us clean up the last 50 miles of the Suwanee River and Apalachicola River without even knowing if it would make them better. It’s a huge financial issue.”

Bishop said membership is strong because he and the other leaders at AIF will make its membership in the capital.

“We have the willingness to stand up whether it’s PC or not. We will tell our state representatives and senators, ‘You are wrong.’ We have a secret membership and we do right by them,” he said.

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