Monday, August 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott jobs promise strays from campaign rhetoric

More Floridians are working since Rick Scott, the self-anointed "jobs governor," took office a year ago.

And yet, today, PolitiFact Florida rates Scott's central campaign promise of 700,000 new jobs Stalled.

Why?

The promise Scott made as an outsider businessman isn't the one he's keeping from his desk in the state Capitol.

PolitiFact Florida is tracking 57 of Scott's campaign promises, and one year in, we find Scott has had more successes than failures. But in the case of the jobs promise, he has much more work to do.

Scott has kept a third of the campaign promises we track on the Scott-O-Meter. He sold the state planes. He has not taken the $130,000 governor's salary. He eliminated what critics call "tenure" for new K-12 teachers.

He also reached a compromise with the Republican Legislature on a plan to cut the state workforce by 5 percent (it shrunk about 3.5 percent last year) and a promise to reform Citizens Property Insurance and allow the state-run insurer to charge market-based premiums (the Legislature wasn't ready to go that far).

Of 57 promises, he has kept 19. Five promises are rated Broken and 13 are rated Stalled. You can see the entire list at PolitiFact.com/florida.

But all of that is just context for the promise Scott called his "whole campaign" — his vow to create 700,000 jobs over seven years.

Jobs promise

During the campaign, Scott said the jobs would grow out of his seven-step plan for the state. State agencies would be held accountable for results from their budgets. Government spending would drop. The cost of regulation would fall. Florida would focus on job growth and retention. Its universities would be world-class. Floridians would pay lower property taxes — and the corporate income tax would disappear.

Keeping those promises, the plan said, would result in specific growth:

• 365,000 jobs would come from tax and budget reforms, including eliminating the corporate income tax.

• 240,000 jobs would come from reducing unnecessary costs that Tallahassee places on Florida businesses.

• 60,000 jobs would come from "leveraging the economic development assets of Florida to attract key technology clusters."

Scott, we find, has now abandoned those specific targets.

Now he promises the state will generate 700,000 net jobs from any and all sources, whether from his reforms or from simple cyclical economic recovery.

What's the difference?

As Scott ran for office, state economists forecast about a million jobs would emerge over seven years as the recession-battered state healed. Scott said his 700,000 jobs — the result of his carefully constructed plan — would come on top. In seven years, if Scott succeeded, the state would add 1.7 million jobs.

Now he says, "Instead of focusing on hypotheticals, I'm focused on what I know will be accomplished through my 7-7-7 plan — the creation of 700,000 jobs over seven years regardless of what the economy might otherwise gain or lose. Floridians will judge me not on what an economist in Tallahassee predicts, but on actual job growth each month."

And indeed, each month, he adds all new jobs in the state to his tally, more than 100,000 so far.

He can be proud: Florida's job growth has outpaced national job growth. But instead of more than 20,000 new jobs each month, he's now promising just over 8,300.

He has moved the goalpost by 1 million jobs.

Economists' view

Politically and practically, shifting makes some sense.

David Denslow, a University of Florida research economist, thinks Scott's entitled to a little renegotiating. He should be able to adjust that 1.7 million promised jobs to account for global and national pressures that weren't clear during the campaign. He should be able to adjust his 7-7-7 plan to respond to what's working, and what's not.

"If the national economy tanks, we have to cut him some slack," he said.

But to drop his goal by nearly 60 percent?

"The limit, I think, is exceeded in this instance," he said.

Tony Villamil, dean of the school of business at St. Thomas University and a former director of Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency, wouldn't even hold the governor to a number.

"Jobs created significantly depend on the U.S. and global environment, which no governor can control," he said.

How would he judge a governor's success? By looking at the state's business environment.

And Scott's goals are on target, he said: cutting taxes, reducing regulation, marketing the state to businesses.

"The part that he can control — he's doing it right," Villamil said.

But Bill Seyfried, a professor of economics at Rollins College, points out that key parts of the governor's job agenda may not ultimately fall into place.

Scott's promise to eliminate the corporate income tax, for example, a centerpiece of the tax and budget reforms key to half of his plan's job creation, is Stalled.

"Since this hasn't occurred, the governor can make the case that it's unlikely that he'll achieve his goal," he said.

Just how is the governor performing on the 31 promises directly from his seven-step plan to 700,000 jobs? Nearly a third are Promise Kept or a Compromise. Nearly a third are In the Works. More than a third are Stalled or Broken.

Our ruling

Scott pledged a result that will be hard to measure — that his seven-year, seven-step plan would boost the state's job market by 700,000. Not surprisingly, Scott the governor has backed away from what Scott the candidate promised.

It's not too late to return to the plan. Scott could tout the state's job growth, but resist adding to his 700,000 tally before his slow-acting medicine has time to work. He could task economists with evaluating the success of the policies he passes. He could take his own plan as seriously as he did 12 months ago.

But until then, we'll take him at his word — the ones he used to earn votes — and hold him accountable, as he asked us to. We rate his promise Stalled.

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