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Sorting out the truth in state politics

Charlie Crist says economic recovery began at the end of his watch

The Republican Party has tried to boil down the comparison between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist, with four words: "Crist crash, Scott surge."

Crist, who wants his old job back, argues the economic recovery actually started on his watch, not Scott's.

He made that argument in a March 9 interview with CNN's Candy Crowley:

Crowley: "Can I get you in a yes or no to get you to tell me whether you think the economy is better than it was when the governor (Scott) took office?"

Crist: "I think it is, yes. You can. And I'm always comfortable telling the truth but that turnaround started at the end of my term. And one of the reasons is I accepted the stimulus money, saved thousands of teachers' jobs, law enforcement officers, firefighters … it was the right thing to do."

Crist didn't give a specific time period for the end of his term, but we focused on data during his final year in office — 2010. We contrasted that with Scott's first year in office — 2011.

Here are some statistics that will shed light on the Florida economy during that period.

The unemployment rate: In January 2010, the unemployment rate in Florida was 11.4 percent. During that year, it started to improve gradually, and by January 2011 it had dropped to 10.9 percent. Then, in 2011 under Scott, the unemployment rate continued to improve, dropping below double digits in October. By December, the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, a drop of 1.4 percentage points.

This measure provides Crist with some modest support: The unemployment rate did decrease in his final year — though 0.5 points is pretty small.

Per capita real GDP: This measures the inflation-adjusted economic activity per person. In 2009-10, per capita real GDP dropped by 0.74 percent. In 2010-11, it continued to drop but by less: 0.23 percent, before climbing in 2011-12 to 1.05.

By this measure, Crist is wrong because per capita real GDP continued to drop during his tenure, even though it was a smaller drop than earlier in the recession.

Per capita personal income: This refers to how much income was earned per person in the state. In 2009-10, per capita personal income grew by 3.09 percent — a turnaround compared to drops the two previous years. It continued to grow in 2011, by 3.64 percent.

This measure gives Crist support, since per capita income growth turned from negative to positive during 2009-10.

Payroll employment per month: By this measure, employment rose from about 7,143,900 jobs in January 2010 to 7,230,300 in January 2011. That's a 1.20 percent increase — but it came during a period when population in the state grew by 1.25 percent.

Since employment growth did not keep pace with population growth, this is not a very strong piece of evidence for Crist.

Industrial production: This is an index that measures the value of manufacturing output, compared to a "base" rate of 100. Under Crist, industrial production rose from 89.94 in January 2010 to 94.29 in January 2011.

Economists we interviewed noted several caveats about the data: the GDP and personal income data starts midyear, and personal income includes components such as dividends, which relate to the broader financial markets rather than state policies.

Proprietary quarterly estimates by Moody's also show mixed evidence for Crist's argument. They show that real income per capita bottomed out in the fourth quarter of 2009 and rose throughout 2010. That's good for Crist's argument. By contrast, real GDP per capita, on the other hand, did not begin to recover by the end of Crist's term.

Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, said Florida's economy in 2010 showed "a very weak pulse. The recovery strengthened slightly in 2011, but we were still limping forward."

How much credit does Crist deserve?

Several economists told us that it is difficult to pinpoint much blame or credit on a governor for shifts in the state's economy that were reflected in the national economy. While the national recovery officially started in June 2009, they said, Florida's recovery did not begin until some time in 2010, and the initial recovery was slow.

"If he is taking credit for the recovery, does he also bear responsibility for the recession? I am not sure you can simultaneously take credit for the good things and eschew any responsibility for the bad," Snaith said.

The timing of Florida's recovery had a lot to do with the national recovery as well as a comeback in certain sectors such as tourism, said David Denslow, an economist with the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

However, Denslow did offer Crist "some credit, most importantly for trying to hold the line on government jobs, and accepting federal stimulus funds," Denslow said.

On balance, the evidence for an economic turnaround on Crist's watch — and for a significant role by him in a turnaround — are mixed. So we rate his claim Half True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

The economic "turnaround started at the end of my term."

Charlie Crist, former Florida governor, March 9 in an interview on CNN

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Half true
During Crist's last year in office, Florida's economy experienced notable gains in personal income and industrial production, and more marginal improvements in the unemployment rate and in payroll employment. But GDP didn't grow again until Rick Scott took office. It's unclear how much credit Crist deserves. On balance, we rate the claim Half True.

Charlie Crist says economic recovery began at the end of his watch 03/16/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2014 8:08pm]
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