Among top Republicans, the outlook on Florida's shaky economy is decidedly mixed. Gov. Rick Scott, whose campaign mantra was "Let's get to work," likes to mention Florida has added 130,000 private sector jobs since he took office. Yet Mitt Romney notes the state's unemployment rate rose last month and uses Florida as evidence that President Barack Obama's economic policies have failed. What Floridians need is less talk about credit or blame and more concrete ideas for creating jobs and diversifying the economy.
The latest jobs report reinforces that Florida continues to struggle more than the nation as a whole. An estimated 816,000 of 9.2 million working Floridians — or 8.8 percent — remained unemployed in July, higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. In Florida, employers shed 3,300 jobs last month, though job numbers were still up over a year ago. And then there are Florida's uneven housing market, depressed property values and continuing home foreclosures.
For all of Romney's criticism of the Obama administration's stimulus plan, health care reform and other measures, he has yet to offer similarly detailed plans for putting America and Florida back to work. He espouses the familiar philosophy of tax cuts and less regulation, but there are too few specifics about job creation.
Romney's choice of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, author of the House Republicans' controversial budget plan, as his running mate provides some indication of how a Romney administration might proceed. But Romney has offered general support of the blueprint while rejecting some specifics. And Ryan's hard line last year in the debt ceiling debate, including negotiating automatic Jan. 1 cuts in federal spending because there was no budget agreement by Congress, isn't a clear job winner, either. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the $1.2 trillion cut over 10 years in both nondefense and defense programs is prompting major players in building industries to avoid investing or hiring workers. Without a new deal after the election, the automatic cuts would directly hit industries like mining, defense and construction in Florida and ripple to others.
Romney has pledged to cut a myriad of taxes — including eliminating the estate tax — and make those cuts revenue neutral by eliminating some tax breaks. But he isn't detailing which tax breaks he'd like to revoke. One idea popular with the tea party supporters — doing away with the mortgage interest deduction — could further depress Florida's construction industry and housing market.
In Tampa Bay, nearly half of all homeowners are underwater on mortgages. Last year, Florida was among the leaders in foreclosures. Romney hasn't said what role, if any, he sees for the federal government to play.
Similarly, Romney has criticized the Obama administration for duplication across more than 50 federal job training programs. He promises to consolidate and only pay for programs that make sense. That's not necessarily bad, but it's more of a platitude than a plan. Would it include programs Florida officials have counted on to lure businesses, for example?
And what is Romney's plan for federal tuition assistance for higher education, which helps hundreds of thousands of cash-strapped Florida students go to college each year? Does he share Ryan's view that Pell grants and subsidized federal loans should be gutted in order to reduce spending?
Republicans have come to Tampa with a convention theme: "A Better Future." This week gives Romney a chance to better explain exactly what that future would look like, particularly for Florida.