June 27, 2017

Gov. Scott signs school funding, economic development bills


From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Monday, including measures boosting spending on education, tourism marketing and economic development.

By signing the bills, and vetoing five more, Scott essentially closed the books on this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.

The bills Scott approved included perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his time as governor: a measure (HB 1A) that provided $76 million for the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida; established an $85 million fund to pay for infrastructure improvements and job training to help draw businesses; and set aside $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee.

That legislation was approved in this month’s special session after the House refused to approve direct business incentives that Scott prefers and gave far less for Visit Florida than he had requested during the regular session, which ended in May.

“With this legislation, we can promote public infrastructure projects and job-training projects to continue to grow jobs for families in every community of our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. “We know that for Florida to be competitive in domestic and international markets, we need as many tools as possible to attract growing businesses to our state.”

Scott also signed another bill from the special session (HB 3A) boosting per-student spending in the state’s main formula for funding public education by $100. The budget for public schools had originally only increased spending by $24 a student, leading to charges from critics that it was too stingy and prompting a rare veto by Scott.

The governor hailed the increase Monday.

“Our students are the future of our state, and I’m incredibly proud to sign legislation today to ensure they have every opportunity for success,” he said.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn’t offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

“It’s an increase — but at what cost?” asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. “The state has recovered, but education funding has not.”

Scott also signed several other education bills Monday, including a measure (HB 15) expanding eligibility for a program that helps pay for educational services for students with disabilities and boosting the size of voucher-like tax credit scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

In addition, the governor approved HB 989, which overhauls the state’s policy on instructional materials to allow any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used at schools.

In all, Scott signed 230 of the bills that lawmakers approved during this year’s regular legislative session while vetoing 11. He signed all four bills that passed during the special session.

Photo credit: AP

October 13, 2016

Why are Florida voters feeling so insecure? An uneven recovery, shifting economy and lower wages

Growth mapDrive northeast along the state’s I-4 corridor and you quickly get a glimpse at why Floridians say they feel financially insecure this election cycle.

In the working-class town of Sanford, northeast of Orlando, Julius Angel Lopez, 18, and his 62-year-old father have been hired to fix up the now-closed La Fontana sandwich shop at the Sanford Plaza. The first-time voter from Deltona says he is leaning toward Hillary Clinton. His father arrived from Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, raised five children, and now has back problems and no insurance.

“I want to hear Hillary and Trump talk about how they can affect people like us,” said Lopez, who aspires to join the Marine Corps. “My dad has worked his whole life and can’t get a disability check. But I feel like the candidates are so focused on each other, they forget about the people of this nation.”

Next door, at Ruth’s Salon, Elizabeth Solla, 42, recites her list of concerns: the high cost of college for her two college-age children, the rising cost of rent for them to leave home, and the obstacles to saving for retirement for her and her husband.

“It worries me,” said Solla, a nurse at Central Florida Regional Hospital. “My mother is retired and Social Security is not enough to sustain her because of the cost of living. You have to find other ways to save money.”

Reports from Florida economic development agencies and the U.S. Census bureau boast of an economic rebound in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott and business leaders tout the state unemployment rate hovering at a low 4.7 percent and how the economy is cranking out new jobs at twice the national pace.

Yet in poll after poll this election cycle, voters identify jobs and the economy as their top concerns.

“You cannot underestimate how household finances affect everything,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor who conducted the recent USF/Nielsen Sunshine State survey. “No matter who wins the election, they are going to have to deal with this problem … Every race from top to the bottom is going to feel it.”

The USF/Nielsen poll found that the top concern of voters is the economy, and 63 percent of Floridians report feeling financial stress in their households. Of those, 28 percent considered the top threat to the state’s economy to be the lack of well-paying jobs, and 51 percent support an increase in the state minimum wage to $15.


A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll conducted in late September also ranked the economy and jobs as the top concern of Florida voters, ahead of education and schools.

“It’s still the No. 1 concern of everybody on an open-ended question,” said Marian Johnson, pollster for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Why don’t voters feel the recovery?

The reason lies deep within the data. Florida’s post-recession bounce has fundamentally restructured the economy in a way that has left millions with fewer assets, lower incomes, and less potential to withstand even short-term budget stress — such as a major car repair or damage from a hurricane.

An economic analysis compiled for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau by Florida International University Metropolitan Center shows that although many jobs have returned since the Great Recession, the new jobs are paying workers significantly less than the jobs they replaced, and the rebound has been dramatically uneven across the state.

“The collective economy of the state is under performing compared to the national economy and other states,” said Kevin Greiner, senior research fellow at FIU’s Metropolitan Center who conducted the study for the Herald/Times. “But what’s really shocking is that there are so many counties that have been completely left behind since the recession.” Story, graphics and data here. 


October 06, 2016

Sunshine State survey: Economy and environment are the major concerns of Floridians

Sunshine State threats of Florida's economy

A summer of water woes and uneasiness about the state’s economic future have led Floridians to identify the economy and the environment as their top concerns as they head to Election Day, according to the 2016 Sunshine State Survey released by the University of South Florida on Thursday..

The annual poll, done by the University of South Florida and Nielsen Surveys, found that 63 percent of all Florida households say they experience some financial stress, 28 percent blame their economic insecurity on low-paying jobs, and a slim majority of Floridians — 51 percent — would support a $15 state minimum wage.

“You cannot under-estimate how household finances affect everything,” said Susan MacManus, USF professor of political science who conducted the survey. “You can see it in just about every poll, and no matter who wins the election they are going to have to deal with this problem because it is not just registered voters who are feeling this way. Every race from top to the bottom is going to feel it.”

The results are the first in a series of reports to be released by USF in an effort to guide state and local leaders to focus on issues relevant to Floridians. The survey of 1,248 Florida residents from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19 was done using live telephone interviews of cell phone and landline phone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.77 percentage points.

While 24 percent of those surveyed cited the economy as their top concern, the issues next in line were the environment (13 percent), crime and policing (11 percent), education and schools (9 percent), government officials (5 percent), healthcare (5 percent), and immigration (5 percent), the survey found.

Water-related problems are the top environmental concern of 34 percent of those surveyed, with the highest intensity focus from residents in the Palm Beach and Naples regions — areas hardest hit by the toxic algae outbreaks earlier this year, the survey found.

Another 20 percent cited the loss of natural lands for wildlife and 18 percent, including a majority of those surveyed in the Miami-Dade and Fort Lauderdale region, say that climate change is the greatest economic peril the state faces.

“The most important thing this survey shows is that people still have a lot of anxiety about their household finances and, as long as people are concerned about that, it affects every other dimension of their lives,” MacManus said.

The survey shows that the “the economy has not fully recovered,” she said, although there are pockets of improvement. Financial stress is greatest among households with a child, low-income earners, and Floridians without a college degree, the survey showed. The proportion of Floridians feeling stress, however, fell 8 percent since last year to 64 percent.

When asked what factors are the greatest threat to Florida’s economy, 28 percent identified the lack of well-paying jobs, the survey found. Another 24 percent cited government waste, taxes and regulations, and 18 percent identified illegal immigration. Those top three concerns encompassed 70 percent of all responses.

Those most concerned about the lack of well-paying jobs are Floridians with a child at home, racial and ethnic minorities, and low- to mid-income households, the report found. White respondents are the most concerned about illegal immigration, and younger Floridians see an inadequate education system as the biggest threat to the state’s economy.

The focus on the environment as a top concern behind the economy should not surprise anyone who has lived in Florida, MacManus said.

“Florida’s economy has long been closely linked to its environmental assets,” she said.

But the survey found that Florida residents are also not happy with the way government is handling sinkholes, especially in the wake of reports that the state waited three weeks to notify residents that a massive sinkhole had drained pollutants into the Floridan✔ Aquifer from the Mosaic phosphate processing plant near the Hillsborough-Polk county line and was potentially contaminating the drinking water supply.

More than half of the respondents rated the state’s performance as fair or poor, with residents of the Tampa Bay and Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas most disapproving of the state’s efforts to address sinkholes (26 percent and 23 percent, respectively).

“Sinkholes are unsettling because it starts to affect insurance rates and housing and development decisions,” MacManus said. “It also leaves people with an enormous sense of uncertainty.”

MacManus also warned that these uncertainties could drive the election – from the presidential race to local offices.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the impact,” she said. “People in Florida get the fact there is a relationship between our state’s economy and the environment and, every time there is a major event – like Zika or a hurricane – it creates more stress.”



September 29, 2016

Fed Reserve chairman warning: Interest rate hike coming, economy needs better worker training

Via @JeffMHarrington 

ORLANDO - The head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta sees the Fed starting to hike interest rates "before long" as the economy continues improving, but also foresees long-term problems ahead without improvement in workplace training.

Dennis Lockhart, who acts as the Fed's Southeast representative as president and CEO of the Federal Bank of Atlanta, told Florida business and political leaders Thursday that he supported the Fed's decision to stand pat on an interest rate increase this month. He called reaching full employment and two percent inflation the "north stars" in setting monetary policy,

"In my opinion, the national economy remains short of these two steady conditions ... but not by a lot," he said during a morning keynote speech at the Future of Florida Forum organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

In a press briefing afterward, Lockhart said he sees the Fed starting to raise rates "in one of the coming meetings" but he declined to predict any action in its November meeting.

Asked about any political motivation within the Fed - as presidential GOP candidate Donald Trump has suggested -Lockhart said: "I don't wade into politics ... The Fed is independent of short-term politics. Federal Reserve officials should not and do not opine on comments of politicians.

He added, however, that "never" in the nine-and-half-years he has been in this role has he seen "rank political considerations" play a role in the Fed's decisions.

Read more here



August 05, 2016

What the governor is not saying about Florida's economy: It's falling farther behind

Florida GDP


  A news release out today from Gov. Rick Scott touts Florida's as "beating the national GDP growth rate of 1.2 percent" and outpacing the nation "in economic growth." 

Indeed the state's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 2.1 percent annualized in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the nation's which is at 1.9 percent.

But what the governor is not saying: the reason the fast-growth numbers are even happening is because Florida has so far to go to catch up to the national average. 

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which posts quarterly and annual GDP data for the United States, Florida’s GDP rate was the 10th fastest growing GDP in the nation in the first quarter of 2016, behind Arkansas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Hampshire, Arizona, Utah and Massachusetts.

Gross domestic product, or GDP, is a key way to measure economic growth. It is the sum total of a state's economic activity and it is important because it includes includes the wages and salaries that workers earn as well as the income earned by individual entrepreneurs and by corporations. 

When you consider the growth of the GDP compared to the growth of the state's population, Florida has lagged behind the national GDP average for years. But rather than remain stable or narrow since the recession, the gap is widening. The only conclusion is: Florida's is falling farther and farther behind the rest of the nation. 

Between 2003 and 2015, Florida's per capita GDP dropped from $40,368 to $38,950, according to the BEA data. By comparison, the national average per capita GDP increased from $45,858 in 2003 to $49,844 in 2015 -- despite the recession. During that time, the gap between Florida's per capital GDP and the nation's doubled. And since Scott took office, Florida has dropped 18 percent more behind the national average in 2015, than it was in 2010. 

These GDP gaps between the national average and Florida's occurred during the time both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist were governor. But, while Florida's GDP had been improving until 2006, the numbers show the gap has widened dramatically since then. Here's the data, from the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Florida Per Capita Gross Domestic Product





























United States




























Source: U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis

In 2003, the gap between the national GDP and the state's was $5,490 per person but, since then, even as parts of Florida’s economy recovered, the per capita GDP has declined. The number inched slightly upward in 2012 and 2013, but the gap between Florida and the U.S. average has nonetheless widened steeply and now Florida's GDP per person is $10,894 below the national average. That's a big drop, even with inflation.

The governor told the Republican convention that the national "economy is not growing." PolitiFact rated that false, noting the U.S. has seen GDP has grow every year since 2010, between 1.5 and 2.5 percent a year. Florida's has risen too, since 2011, but the amount of goods and services produced in Florida continues to lag behind many other states and the national average. 

Here's how the BEA defines its GDP measure: "an industry's GDP by state, or its value added, in practice, is calculated as the sum of incomes earned by labor and capital and the costs incurred in the production of goods and services. That is, it includes the wages and salaries that workers earn, the income earned by individual or joint entrepreneurs as well as by corporations, and business taxes such as sales, property, and Federal excise taxes—that count as a business expense."

Here's the governor's press release: 

Continue reading "What the governor is not saying about Florida's economy: It's falling farther behind" »

November 24, 2015

Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida



Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald