Friday, January 19, 2018
Politics

Rick Scott says budget sets record low for state workers per capita this century

When Gov. Rick Scott announced he approved a $74.1 billion budget last week, he portrayed it as having plenty of goodies for everyone, from school teacher raises to hot meals for the elderly.

But he also claimed that the budget was lean.

"This budget also reflects the smallest state government workforce per 1,000 residents in Florida in this century," Scott wrote in veto and budget message.

Is that right? PolitiFact Florida decided to get out our calculators.

There are a few valid ways to measure the number of state workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data on actual state workers while the state Department of Management Services annual workforce reports show both established positions (including vacant ones) and actual employees (some folks refer to that as "heartbeats").

In this case, Scott's office created their own measure by pulling together budget data. They used the number of employees authorized in each year's budget as a baseline, and then made a few adjustments. Scott subtracted employees who would be "lost" because of vetoes, and also removed county health workers, who were not included in state budgets before 2009-10.

They then added in employees that were "included" in separate legislation but not reflected in the general budget bill.

Scott's office calculates that the 2013-14 state budget includes 5.2 state employees per 1,000 residents, which would be the lowest this century (since 2000). It's down from 5.7 state employees per 1,000 residents in Scott's first year in office.

In fact, the state workforce per residents figure has declined every year since 2000, according to Scott's math.

The trend makes sense. Republican governors Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and now Scott have all discussed shrinking the state workforce — whether out of principle or by necessity. At the same time, the state's population is growing.

Since Scott took office, there have been about 60,000 staffers to leave because they quit, retired or for other reasons, and the state laid off 2,197 workers. (Those figures don't include state universities but do include temporary state workers.)

One area Scott has targeted for contraction is the state prison system. In January, his administration announced that it would outsource health care for more than 15,000 inmates, including at prisons in Miami-Dade County. That has affected about 400 workers but about 97 percent were hired by the company, according to the state Department of Corrections.

We sent Scott's claim to Chris Lafakis, a senior economist at Moody's who studies Florida. He used BLS data to examine the statement

"He's right if you look at it in terms of state government workers per capita, but this is partially because of all the retirees that have flooded into the state," Lafakis said. "If you look at the state government share of total employment, it is low, but not at an all-time low. ... This number has been steadily declining since the mid 1990s, and Scott has continued it on the downward trend."

We also interviewed two professors of public administration at Florida International University — department chairman Howard A. Frank and assistant professor Hai "David" Guo. Both said Scott's claim may not tell the full story about the state's workforce.

Frank raised a question about how to factor in privatization.

"Ideology aside, those employees are less burdensome in terms of direct outlays, but I suspect at least some are quasigovernmental if they are employed by entities that derive a significant part of their revenue from the state-local sector," he wrote.

Guo said additional indicators of government size include the budget per capita and its growth and whether the state has shifted any responsibilities to local governments.

"The employee number of state government alone may not tell the whole story," Guo wrote in an email.

Our ruling

Scott said that the 2013-14 budget "reflects the smallest state government workforce per 1,000 residents in Florida in this century."

To get there, Scott's staffers examined budgeted positions and made certain adjustments including subtracting for vetoes. They also projected the state's population for 2013-14.

We think their assessment is largely fair, with some small caveats. First, there are other ways to measure the state workforce — either by using federal labor statistics or other state data. And second, the size of the state workforce per capita has been declining for years.

Minor points, though. We rate this claim Mostly True.

This fact-check has been edited for print. Read more at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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