The Leroy Collins Institute released an updated report on Florida’s economy titled Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida’s Future. The institute was founded by former Democrat Governor LeRoy Collins who was Florida’s 33rd chief executive, serving from 1955-1961. The report comes out during an election year. Florida Governor Rick Scott took exception to portions of the report.
The Tougher Choices report states:
It [Tougher Choices] builds on a 2005 Institute report which warned that the state’s revenue system was overly reliant on the booming housing market and rebuilding from hurricanes. We documented that the need for services—well-qualified teachers, health care for children and the needy, and exemplary higher education—was pressing and likely to become more urgent.
In this report, written by Jim Dewey and David Denslow with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, the news is grim. Revenues were hit hard by the recession and are only recently recovering. At the same time, the demand for education, health, and infrastructure spending continues to grow. This report also highlights the role of demographics and labor markets both now and in the future. And, ominously, it points out that Florida is experiencing a “hollowing out” of middle-wage jobs at a rate faster than the rest of the country.
We hope that Tougher Choices will serve as the catalyst for meaningful discussion between citizens and their elected representatives about the future of Florida. The state seems to be falling behind in a number of economic and policy measures relative to other states, and those trends will continue without long-term thinking and thoughtful conversations about our state’s future. Governor Collins saw challenges and acted on them. “Ours is a generation in which great decisions can no longer be passed on to the next,” he said in 1960. “The hour grows late, and you and I have work to do.”
The following is from an email from Governor Scott’s office raising concerns about the validity of Tougher Choices:
In the four years before Governor Scott took office, hundreds of thousands of jobs had been lost and Florida’s economy was in a tailspin. Since the Governor took office, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created and Moody’s Analytics reports ‘Florida is back on track.’ It’s clear that Governor Scott’s policies for job creation and programs for targeted investments in education, infrastructure and Florida’s families are working. Governor Scott is committed to creating an opportunity economy that creates jobs for generations to come. The article in the Bradenton Herald on the “Tougher Choices” study by the Leroy Collins Institute misses some important facts.
CLAIM: “Teacher salaries in Florida declined at the fourth fastest rate among states between 2000 and 2012, and it will be difficult to make significant progress ‘without increasing tax rates, however unlikely that might be.’”
Governor Scott believes it is essential to support teachers, to equip them with the tools they need to improve their practice as professionals, and to help students realize better educational outcomes.
- To support higher teacher salaries, Governor Scott championed a $480 million commitment for salary increases for educators during the 2013 Legislative Session, and has reallocated funding to support that increase again this year. As of January 2014, 50 districts had completed negotiations and had begun receiving their allocations of $300.7 million in funding.
- Last year, Governor Scott supported and received funding for the Governor’s Teacher Supply Debit Card, providing approximately $250 for each public school teacher to buy classroom supplies without reaching into their own pockets.
- In addition, Governor Scott’s commitment to increase training, specifically to ensure training and technical assistance around state standards, is evident in his proposed recommendation to increase training for principals and teachers by $13.4 million in fiscal year 2014-2015.
- This year, Florida was again ranked first in the nation in teacher quality and in the top ten in the nation for the overall quality of its education system.
CLAIM: “Gas taxes, the principal funding source for transportation, continue to erode because they are not indexed for inflation and the popularity of energy-efficient cars means people are buying less gasoline.”
Florida families aren’t faced with paying too little in taxes; they suffer from paying too much. That’s why with over a $1 billion budget surplus, Governor Scott is looking to return $500 million to taxpayers in his “Its Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” that includes returning over $400 million to Florida drivers by rolling back the increase in car registration fees that were increased in 2009. His budget also calls for a 15-day hurricane sales tax holiday and a back –to-school sales tax holiday.
Governor Scott recognizes that to raise gas taxes would hurt Florida families, Florida businesses and Florida tourism.
Florida is ranked with the best infrastructure in the country according the National Chamber of Commerce Foundation. He is proposing a record $8.8 billion in strategic transportation investments including full funding of the transportation work program.
His budget makes the following investments:
- $3.8 billion for construction of highway projects;
- $138.9 million in seaport infrastructure improvements;
- $324.6 million for aviation improvements;
- $192.5 million for scheduled repair of 51 bridges and replacement of 15 bridges;
- $843.3 million for maintenance and operation; and
- $528 million for public transit development grants.
CLAIM: “Florida’s lack of a personal income tax results in a heavy reliance on the 6 percent statewide sales tax and property taxes, and property taxes fall heaviest on businesses.”
Since he took office, Governor Scott has:
- Cut taxes 24 times,
- Cut property taxes by over $210 million, and
- Increased the corporate tax exemption so over 70% of Florida businesses no longer pay state business taxes.
- Governor Scott eliminated the sales tax on machinery and equipment and now Florida is ranked in the top five in overall state business tax climate by the Tax Foundation.
- Our lack of a personal income tax has contributed to record population growth and tourism. The millage rates have remained the same while Florida has seen an increase in property values resulting in greater revenue to the state.
These initiatives are helping Florida’s businesses to grow, and since 2010 Florida businesses have created more than 460,000 jobs statewide.
Some question whether the timing of this report is about public policy or a political statement. We report, you decide.