Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said his top priority if he wins the presidency would be to rein in federal spending. He accused his Republican primary rivals, pointedly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, of spending too much money.
He also knocked DeSantis: “You compare that to Florida, for instance — in the last five years, spending has gone up 30% … Ron DeSantis had spending going up at an average of 6% a year in Florida for his first five years. We’re the ones in this race who has controlled spending when we were in charge, and we’ll do the very same thing when I become president.”
CNBC host Brian Sullivan disputed Christie’s statement, saying costs in Florida have risen partly because many people are moving there and intensifying competition in the state’s housing market.
Christie said, “I am talking about pure government spending,” adding that New Jersey’s population increased during his governorship, too.
“You can give whatever excuses you want,” Christie said later, adding, “I am willing to say no to more federal spending.”
We wanted to explore the numbers and the missing context.
Florida’s budget rose, but so did tax revenue
A Christie spokesperson pointed to a news article about the $88.7 billion budget signed in 2018 by then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott during his last year in office. In June 2023, DeSantis signed a $116.5 billion budget.
That is a 31% increase.
The campaign also pointed to a June CNN article that said, “Over the past two years, DeSantis has spared little expense while molding Florida to his liking” and cited a 30% budget increase compared with Scott’s final budget.
But state budgets are built on a math equation, and Christie omits half of it.
The Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget. Although Florida’s spending rose, so did the state’s revenue. During the same period that Florida’s spending from all funds increased by 31%, tax revenue increased by 28.9%, said Lucy Dadayan, an expert at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Several factors drove Florida’s strong revenue and spending growth, Dadayan said.
Revenue in Florida and elsewhere grew strongly during the pandemic because of the direct federal aid provided to state and local governments and billions of dollars injected into the economy, partly through stimulus checks, which helped spur economic activity. Florida’s large population growth in the past few years also helped send revenue higher.
Similar spending and revenue patterns happened in many other states, Dadayan said. “And most importantly, the fiscal boom of (fiscal year) 2021 and 2022 is coming to an end and states are now seeing much weaker if not declining revenue growth.”
Furthermore, Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal think tank, said Florida’s nominal gross domestic product rose 38.5% from 2017 to 2022. Nominal GDP refers to the gross domestic product at current market prices, without adjustment for inflation.
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“Hard to blame someone for having spending roughly keep pace with the growth of the state’s economy,” Baker said. “It is normal to expect a state’s spending to more or less grow at the same rate as its economy, so the rise in spending cited by Christie is nothing at all unusual given Florida’s growth.”
Christie said that under DeSantis, “in the last five years, spending has gone up 30%” in Florida.
In 2018, the year before DeSantis took office as governor, Florida’s budget was about $88.7 billion. In 2023, DeSantis signed a $116.5 billion budget. That’s a 31% increase.
Christie’s focus on the spending figure leaves out important details and context, as the interviewer pointed out. Tax revenue rose about the same percentage during that period as the state’s population grew. Pandemic federal aid boosted Florida’s budget, as it did in other states. And the Florida Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget for DeSantis to sign.
We rate this claim Half True.