Gov. Rick Scott brags about Florida's economic recovery under his leadership, all of the jobs that have been created and the drop in the unemployment rate to a seven-year low. But the rosy rhetoric in Tallahassee about the benefits of job incentives to big corporations and still more tax cuts are out of touch with the sober reality in the rest of the state. There is ample evidence that the governor's economic policy is not helping millions of Floridians still struggling to make ends meet with low-paying jobs, high mortgage payments and stagnant wages.
There is plenty of good news on the surface. The state's jobless rate dropped to 5.2 percent in September, and the governor sent a flurry of news releases touting the number of new jobs created in major markets. Construction is rebounding in Tampa Bay, Miami and elsewhere. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are setting tourism records, and Disney World is coming up with new pricing schemes to better spread out the flow of so many visitors.
Dig deeper, and there are reasons so many families remain discouraged and uneasy about the future. Just 2,100 jobs were added statewide between August and September while 6,600 government jobs disappeared. Too many of the jobs added this year are in low-paying sectors such as health services, and the labor force is shrinking even as the population is growing. The gap between the average annual salaries in the nation and in Florida has been widening over several years instead of narrowing, and the middle class has been shrinking. Median wages in Florida, adjusted for inflation, are lower than they were during the recession in 2009. Some 20 percent of Floridians are on Medicaid; another half-million are uninsured but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for subsidies on the federal exchange. But Scott and the Legislature are more focused on cutting costs than providing access to health care.
Floridians who face losing their homes or their jobs also cannot expect much help from the state. One of every 186 homes in the state had a foreclosure filing in the third quarter, the nation's second-highest foreclosure rate. Yet Florida has the lowest rate of approving struggling homeowners for mortgage help with federal money from the Hardest Hit Fund out of 18 states in the program. And good luck using the state's troubled online system to file for unemployment benefits. The state ranks last in the nation by paying claims to only 12 percent of its unemployed, and it can take up to a month to receive the first check.
Yet a relaxed Scott painted a bright economic picture to reporters last week and stuck to his mantra of tax cuts and job incentives. The governor is expected to seek more than a half-billion dollars in tax cuts next year, although he has no specifics beyond making permanent a temporary repeal of the sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing. No wonder his plan to finally eclipse the record per student spending of 2008 would rest largely on the backs of local taxpayers paying higher property taxes because of rising values rather than on the state. No wonder University of Florida president Kent Fuchs says his greatest financial challenge is just maintaining facilities and at the top of his list is $7 million for a new boiler.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Then there is Scott's obsession with handing out-of-state companies millions to come to Florida and create jobs that may or may not be high-paying. Even Senate Republicans have had enough, legitimately questioning why Enterprise Florida needs the additional millions Scott wants. Nearly all of the $264 million allocated to a quick action fund since the governor took office in 2011 has been unspent so far or returned and sits in an escrow account drawing little interest. When Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa derided "Tallahassee's commitment to corporate welfare,'' she was closer to reality than the governor.
While Scott was in New York this month dangling more public money to get companies to move here, the Legislature's top economist questioned that approach. Amy Baker told lawmakers the state should spend more money supporting Florida's small businesses and entrepreneurs and less on luring large businesses from other states that may come anyway and operate in multiple states. Good advice.
There is one rose-colored view from Tallahassee, and the governor is determined to stick with his trickle-down economics. The view from Tampa Bay and the rest of the state for many Floridians is far less optimistic, and more tax cuts and more incentives for out-of-state corporations are not going to help.