It's fitting that Charlie Crist is governor of the Sunshine State. The man always looks on the brighter side of life, just like one of his heroes, Ronald Reagan. No problems, only opportunities.
A prolonged real estate slump, record foreclosures and skyrocketing fuel prices? They are "challenging times," in Crist's view. Two rare back-to-back years of revenue declines? A "downturn" that will soon pass, Crist says calmly. Billions of dollars in cuts to services for frail seniors and children? It will all work out, he says. • "Pessimists see problems, while optimists see opportunities," Crist said in his State of the State address last month in a succinct summary of his political philosophy. "You know I am an optimist, but no matter the perspective, we can dare to be great." • Do these hard times justify Crist's optimism? • "Thank God I'm an optimist," Crist said in an interview in his Capitol office as he sipped coffee Tuesday. "Imagine that we had a governor during these economic times who was a gloom-and-doom guy. I don't think that would help the spirit of Florida much. But I'm not overly optimistic." • Is Crist merely a man whose glass is always half-full, or is he increasingly detached from the realities facing Florida? So far, his approval ratings remain right up there in the sky with that Florida sun. Still, is there a point at which such a disconnect would hurt his ability to govern? • See how several recent examples of Crist statements stack up with the facts of life in the Sunshine State on the Back Page.
"Florida's on the rise"
Crist speech, Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee, March 19
• State revenues are lagging. For the first time in modern history, the tax revenue to run the state is projected to be less than the year before for two years in a row.
• Foreclosures are way up. RealtyTrac put it this way: "With more than 2 percent of its households entering some stage of foreclosure during the year, Florida documented the second-highest state foreclosure rate for 2007." The foreclosure filing total in December was nearly four times higher than December 2006.
• The state's leading economist, Amy Baker, has said growth rates are not expected to improve until the second quarter of 2009.
• Another state economist, Don Langston, said last month: "We need to be pessimistic."
"I'm an optimist, and I know
we're going through a dip, you know? I'm a pragmatist, too, but I also know the sun always comes up in Florida, so we'll be fine. We've just got to slog through it and we'll be okay."
Crist speech, March 11, to mortgage brokers
• The sun indeed will rise. It did so
at 7:15 this morning. But ...
• Florida's population is increasing at the slowest pace in 30 years, which will put a damper on economic growth. "The state has not experienced a decline of this magnitude since the mid '70s, when we were in a national recession," University of Florida researcher Stan Smith said in a recent interview. He directs population studies for the university's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The slowdown will affect everything from housing starts and new jobs to corporate relocations and state and local taxes. It also reinforces a recent perception that Florida's days are waning as a low-cost place in the sunshine.
"In terms of success, and being able to provide hope and opportunity for more people in the future, having a good, sound, solid education system, I think, truly is the key to it."
Crist speech, March 11, to Orlando-area civic leaders
• It's true that Education Week and the College Board have recently been saying good things about progress in our schools. However ...
• Floridians are profoundly pessimistic when comparing Florida's education system with those in other states. Forty-five percent say the education that students receive in this state is worse than elsewhere in the United States, according to a St. Petersburg Times survey.
• The K-12 education budget will decrease next year for the first time in memory. Universities face cutbacks, crowded classes, staff layoffs.
• Average salary for a Florida teacher is $45,308, 28th in the nation.
• Florida eighth-graders have progressed to the middle of the national pack in writing, according to 2007 scores released last week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, "the nation's report card." That is a gain of 10 percentage points in a decade.
• Florida ranks 32nd nationally in a state-by-state comparison of the well-being of children, up from 33rd the year before.
• The state says the graduation rate has risen to 72.4 percent, 12 percentage points higher than in 1999. But even those newest numbers mean more than one in four students are not graduating.