Much like the old adage that in the hospital there is always someone else who is sicker, Floridians can take some comfort (but not too much) that things could be worse. Yes, the state struggled to balance its priorities after a $2 billion budget shortfall. But we could be California, where Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to plug a $15.7 billion budget gusher of red ink and lower a skyrocketing unemployment rate.
California is reeling from its massive deficit and its consequences for providing services. True, Tampa Bay residents are dealing with their own checkbook challenges. A recent survey by the Consumer Distress Index measuring unemployment, net worth, creditworthiness and household budget constraints lists Tampa Bay as the most financially stressed metropolitan region in the nation. Tampa Bay even beat out Detroit on the distressed meter. Detroit? Adding to the stress, Tampa Bay also leads the country in foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac. Last month, notices for auctions and bank repossessions in Tampa Bay reached a whopping 59 percent of the 4,295 filings. Nationally, Florida ranks as the fifth most economically distressed state. California, for all its woes, is only 14th.
Yet it could get worse. California's options in dealing with its nearly $16 billion budget deficit range from dire to draconian. Already Brown has announced deep cuts in funding for schools, welfare, elderly services and the state's once vaunted university system. And state employees could have their work hours reduced by 5 percent.
In a state notoriously tax averse, Brown wants voters to approve a temporary quarter-of-a-cent increase in sales taxes and raise the income taxes of the wealthy. But raising taxes is always a tough sell no matter the coast line.
Like the Golden State, the Sunshine State has a diverse population, Mickey Mouse, the beaches — and plenty of challenges ranging from the budget crunch to higher education to a depressed real estate market. On a brighter note, Florida's unemployment rate has dropped to 8.7 percent, whatever that means since the state still lost 2,700 jobs in April. California's unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, well above the national average of 8.1 percent, and lost 4,200 jobs in April.
What do all the numbers tell us? The grass isn't always greener on the other coast.