CLEARWATER – If you’re a politician – particularly a member of Congress – duck.
The public is in a “anti-incumbent, anti-government” mood, said Susan MacManus, a political analyst, speaking to Largo and other area business leaders Jan. 14 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort.
It stems from the inability of Congress to solve the problems that most people say are the most pressing in their lives, having jobs and keeping their homes, she said.
The audience laughed loudly over comments MacManus had about the popularity of Congress derived from polls.
In a new poll “45 percent think that people selected at random from a phone book could do a better job than the current Congress,” MacManus said.
“There’s also a Gallop poll that shows right now, Congress members for the first time are rated below ... used car dealers,” MacManus said.
MacManus, who is also a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, said the economy tops the public’s list of their priorities for elected officials.
Reputable polls are showing the majority of people think that the government is doing too much on the economic front “and that won’t be a good thing for fixing the economy.”
“When times get bad, from a personal perspective, people get really angry at government and they really watch how government spends their tax dollars,” MacManus said.
Anti-bailout sentiment is on the upswing, she said. Polls continuously show an increase in the number of people who think it’s a bad idea.
Though the area is still struggling on the employment front, a business executive said he expects the economy to improve.
Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of Tampa Partnership, said unemployment was below 4 percent in the Tampa Bay region a few years ago and now is near 13 percent.
“We have never seen anything like that in the Tampa Bay region,” he said. “We are struggling on how to create jobs in our community.”
However, the area in 2009 saw some stabilization in the housing market.
“Despite all the pain and turmoil we felt over the last few years, from a looking forward perspective, the Tampa Bay region and the Southeast for the most part has maintained affordability when it comes to doing business and living here.”
That’s a sign of good news, and the area is a “cost-affordable environment,” he said.
As the nation moves out of a recession, businesses are going to be looking to see where they can go, and he thinks the Southeast is poised to say that the environment for doing business is favorable.
Rogel thinks unemployment will hit above 13 percent this year.
“That’s the bad news,” he said. “The good news is we think 2010 will end very differently. We think there will be a slowly expanding economy.”
He said in 2011-13 jobs will be created at a normal pace.
On other issues, Rogel said the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority has a master plan for how to connect communities together in the seven counties it serves, involving buses, trains and ferries.
A referendum on a proposed penny sales tax to fund the first phase of the transit system will be held in Nov. 2 in Hillsborough County.
“I will tell you that Pinellas is not too far behind on how they connect up and how they tie up across the bay through a transit system that will provide a train that will get us to facilities that we need to,” Rogel said.
The partnership, which is a regional organization focused on stimulating economic growth and economic development in the area, has been one of the leading advocates of establishing a regional transportation system.
Another speaker, Steve Raney, president/CEO of Raymond James Bank, said the banking industry is facing an “unprecedented set of challenges in the last couple of years.”
The housing bubble caused the chain of events that occurred in the last couple of years, he said.
“I think there is some good news on the horizon, though,” Raney said.
On the positive side in the last several months large corporate borrowers are starting to access the credit markets again.