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Governor vs. Governor: A data comparison of Florida's Rick Scott, Charlie Crist

TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters face a unique political choice for the first time in state history: They will re-elect a governor or replace him with his predecessor.

It could happen only in Florida, and only because former Gov. Charlie Crist switched parties and is seeking to win his old job back.

Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, and his successor, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, were elected in very different times but served with similar tools.

Each was in power when his party dominated the Legislature, giving him near complete control to influence policy.

Crist held office as a global recession cratered the state's economy and Scott, elected at the recession's peak, has led the state through the recovery.

The Times/Herald has made a side-by-side comparison of their records in a range of areas, from public school spending to property insurance premiums; from the number of executions to the number of civil rights restoration cases; from the size of the state workforce to the expansion of assistance programs for the poor.

As the Times/Herald has reported, there is little a governor can do to directly affect the state economy. He can't make businesses create jobs. He can't require companies to raise wages or boost middle-class earnings.

A governor can, however, influence state policies and direct his agencies to work with the Legislature to put policies in place that encourage job and wage growth.

When it comes to spending taxpayers' money, a governor's single most-powerful weapon is his line-item veto power over the Legislature's annual spending decisions.

The billion-dollar budget serves as the governor and Legislature's blueprint for their priorities.

= Charlie Crist

= Rick Scott

Judges

Governors have the power to appoint judges based on a list of recommendations provided to them from a nominating commission that is dominated by the governor's appointees. Here's the record of appointments through Sept. 30:

Source: Florida Governor's Office

Restoration of civil rights

Convicted felons are entitled to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for office under certain conditions in Florida. In 2007, Crist and the Cabinet voted to make it easier for felons to regain their civil rights, but those reforms were changed in 2011 when Scott, and a different Cabinet, voted to require felons to wait at least five years after serving their sentence to reapply. From Jan. 1, 2007, to Sept. 16, 2014, the following numbers of felons regained their civil rights:

Source: Florida Commission on Offender Review

Budget

The state budget is often considered the blueprint of the governor's priorities because he has ultimate veto authority over it. But it is also a negotiated agreement between his priorities and the powerful GOP-led Legislature. Here is the total state budget and the amount vetoed each year.

*Including $250 million in loan incentives for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

** Including $305 million in spending authority for the Florida Forever conservation program

Source: Times/Herald research

State debt

Florida's government must balance its budget each year, and the governor has final say over the state's spending plan. Over the years, the state has benefitted from low interest rates to expand its spending capacity by borrowing money for school construction, transportation and environmental conservation. Here is the outstanding state debt as of June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Source: Division of Bond Finance, 2013 Debt Affordability Report

Reserves

An important measure of financial health is the level of general fund reserves, and rating agencies cite the level of reserves in determining the state's credit strength. The governor has the ability to influence the reserves in approving the state budget.

Source: Division of Bond Finance, 2013 Debt Affordability Report

State workers

Florida has had fewer workers on its payroll per capita than any other state for most of this decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2012, state governments nationwide had an average of 211 workers per 10,000 population while Florida had 111 workers per 10,000 — 47 percent less than the national average. The average salary for a state worker in Florida in 2013 was $38,299; the workforce was 57 percent female. According to the Department of Financial Services, Florida outsources nearly two-thirds of its spending to nonstate employees.

Source: DMS Annual Workforce Report

Demographics of state personnel system

Source: DMS Annual Workforce Report

State taxes per capita

Florida's state taxes include taxes on retail sales, utilities, fuel and corporate income. Tax rates have remained steady except for the corporate income tax, which has been gradually whittled down by expanding tax credits in 2009, 2010 and 2013.

* Estimate

Sources: Florida TaxWatch, Florida Revenue Estimating Conference

Corporate taxes and fees

All corporations doing business in Florida pay corporate fees and taxes as set by the Legislature and approved by the governor. Below is the total collected, minus any refunds allowed by law:

* Estimate

Source: Florida Tax Handbook 2014

Average teacher salaries

Salaries for Florida public school teachers are negotiated by each of 67 school districts and fluctuate. The data below reflects averages and, in some cases does not include negotiated year-end bonuses and adjustments. The data, however, is a reflection of policy priorities as supported by the governor in a given budget year.

*Beginning in 2011, teachers were required to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their retirement accounts.

** Includes $480 million in teacher raises.

Source: Florida Department of Education Data Report 2010 and 2013

K-12 education and per-pupil spending

Florida funds K-12 education with a combination of state and local funding. Each school district must contribute property tax dollars and the state contributes general revenue dollars. The governor can influence education spending with his power to sign or veto the budget. One way to measure the role of the state in education spending is to break it down by per-pupil spending. Florida has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in per-pupil spending on education in the nation, according to data collected by the U.S. Census. Here are the numbers:

Sources: Florida Department of Education, PolitiFact Florida

Ranking of state in per-pupil spending

Another way to look at per-pupil spending is in comparison to other states. Florida's rank has dropped in recent years according to the U.S. Census.

Source. U.S. Census Public Education Finances Report

Total education funding as percentage of total budget

A good measure of the priorities legislators and the governor put on education is the level of total funding for all education — K-12, preschool and higher education — as a percentage of the total budget. Here are the numbers:

Sources: Florida Department of Education, Florida TaxWatch

Executions

Florida's executions have increased in pace in part because of a law enacted in 2013 to speed up the rate in which the death penalty is carried out. Under the Timely Justice Act, the governor has 30 days to sign a death warrant after an inmate has exhausted one round of appeals and, once a death warrant is signed, the execution must occur within 180 days.

Source: Florida Department of Corrections

Insurance premiums

One of the most significant pocketbook issues facing Floridians is their property insurance bill. The governor has indirect influence over the largest insurance carrier in the state, Citizens Property Insurance, whose president is confirmed by the governor and Cabinet. The governor also appoints two members of the nine-member board of directors and signs or vetoes insurance measures passed by the Legislature. The chart below shows the cost of the average property insurance premiums for all private property insurance in Florida, including Citizens, as well as the total exposure — the value of the property covered. As premiums have risen in recent years, the amount of property covered by those policies has declined.

* as of March 2014, excludes State Farm

Source: PolitiFact Florida

Electricity costs

The governor appoints the members of the Public Service Commission, which regulates utility rates in Florida. Due to the high air-conditioning use and the dependence on electricity to heat homes in the winter, Florida homeowners use more electricity that any other state except Texas. The total average price includes residential, commercial, industries and transportation. Here is the average price for electricity in Florida per megawatt hours:

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Unemployment compensation

The federal government requires the state to impose a tax on wages paid by Florida employers to pay for unemployment benefits received by unemployed individuals. In 2011, Florida legislators, with the governor's support, reduced the eligibility for benefits and lowered the number of weeks employees could draw pay. In 2012, they reduced the amount of wages that could be taxed from $8,500 to $8,000. The national average for the taxable wage base is $16,683.

Source: Florida Tax Handbook 2014

Assistance and food stamps

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is a federal program run by the state to provide temporary financial help to eligible low-income families. Scott pushed for and signed a law in 2011 that required anyone eligible for TANF to pass a drug test before receiving the funds. After a judge put the law on hold in February 2013, TANF cases began to rise. The law was ultimately struck down by the court in December 2013. Scott said he would appeal. Food stamps, or Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, is another temporary federal program run by the state intended to help low-income people buy nutritional foods.

Source: Florida Department of Children and Families

Governor vs. Governor: A data comparison of Florida's Rick Scott, Charlie Crist 10/04/14 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2014 7:56pm]
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