Can any Tallahassee politician really do much to stem Florida's 11.9 percent and still rising unemployment rate? The solution has eluded many.
When Gov. Charlie Crist took office in 2007, unemployment was under 4 percent. Three years and several hundred thousand additional jobless Floridians later, his policies have not put the slightest dent in the soaring number of unemployed.
Earlier this year, Republican leaders of the Florida House and Senate held a jobs summit in Orlando to entertain fresh ideas on how to create jobs. But the state budget deficit undermined legislative initiatives, with the exception of one measure that delays a higher unemployment tax on businesses.
Now comes Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer and Democratic candidate for governor, who this morning in West Palm Beach unveils the start of her statewide "Business Plan for Florida" tour. She hopes to make the plan a mainstay of her campaign against Republican candidates Bill McCollum, the state attorney general, and state Sen. Paula Dockery, to succeed Crist.
As Sink described her plan to me Tuesday, the job-creation strategy seems all too familiar. Create more jobs quickly now by promoting tourism in winter-weary states. Build better jobs later by commercializing state university research and honing tax credits and incentives to boost small-business hiring. And throw in a dose of streamlining state government.
It's much the same strategy promoted by Florida's business community and other economic experts. There's just one problem: Florida has way more than 1 million unemployed while, optimistically, any jobs created would number in the low thousands at best.
As governor, Sink says she would get far more involved as economic ambassador than recent governors in recruiting business to the Sunshine State.
Sink recently traveled to New York to ask the top business relocation consultants whether it makes much difference if a governor gets involved in recruiting?
"They said, 'Absolutely, yes,' " Sink recalled. "Right now, Florida is getting beaten. And I do not like losing."
Sink's hope to leverage her experience in banking may prove a tough sell in today's anti-Wall Street world. Republicans already are running ads that portray Sink as one of those former bankers who raked in millions in compensation while cutting jobs across the state.
Her plan to be a business-recruiting governor could deliver her some street credibility in the fall race — if she can make her case to the state's economically fatigued voters.
Any candidate who convinces voters that jobs are on the way later this year probably has the inside track for governor. The trick is Florida's unemployment rate is likely to crest well above 12 percent — just about the time Floridians head to the November polls.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]