Bob Buckhorn and Jeff Vinik talk infrastructure, jobs, politics on NY media tour

November 30, 2016

Richard Danielson | Tampa Bay Times

With President-elect Donald Trump and federal officials talking about a big infrastructure bill next year, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Viniksaid Monday that new spending aimed at “moving people around” is critically important for the Tampa Bay area.

“Transportation,” Buckhorn said when CNBC asked what kind of infrastructure his city needs most. “Clearly Florida’s a state that desperately needs multimodal options, and that would include rail.”

“Autonomous (vehicles), ride-share — all these things have got to be part of transportation,” Vinik said.

The two, along with Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. president Craig Richard, were on a tour of national business media in New York to pitch the region’s efforts on job creation and the $2 billion project that Vinik has planned near downtown with the Bill Gates private capital fund, Cascade Investment.

“What we’re trying to do with our development, what Mayor Buckhorn is trying to do — it’s all about having a faster growing economy in the region, more jobs, better jobs, more economic activity,” Vinik told CNBC during a 6½-minute appearance with Buckhorn “I’m very bullish for the years ahead.”

Asked whether he would be concerned if additional infrastructure spending threatened to expand the federal deficit and national debt, Vinik said, not necessarily.

“Deficits have come down to reasonable levels,” he said. “They are expected to increase over time with health care growing. While I worry about deficits, I’m more bullish than most people are on them. I think we’ve actually made major progress on health care in this country. … Putting more spending in the hands of the consumer (is) leading to less spending over time. And I think that health care spending will increase at a lower percentage in the future than others do. Therefore, deficits may not be as harmful as we think. Therefore, we may have room to increase them a bit with infrastructure spending.”

Asked what Democrats like him have to do after the Nov. 8 election, Buckhorn, a possible candidate for Florida governor in 2018, said, “we need to have a message that resonates with working-class folks.”

“We can’t be focused on identity politics,” he said. “We can’t be focused on ginning up new voters necessarily. That’s part of the solution. But clearly the (Democrats’) message was not resonating in working-class America, and it wasn’t just Florida. It was some of the heartland states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. We have to speak to their hopes and their aspirations as well. That message has got to be all-encompassing, but it’s got to be an economic message.”