- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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April 8

The Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s job recruitment efforts:

Shelling out millions in public money to private corporations was never a novel, responsible or sustainable strategy for creating jobs in the Sunshine State. That’s why the Florida Legislature’s decision not to spend any money over the next year on a job incentive program has forced a healthy and overdue debate. This is an opportunity for Florida to assess its strengths and weaknesses, better target quality jobs and industries and draw a clear line between promoting economic growth and corporate welfare.



The Legislature’s refusal last month to give any new money to Gov. Rick Scott’s signature job development program has sparked a crisis at Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency. Its chief executive abruptly resigned, and Scott ordered job and spending cuts and an exhaustive review of the operation in advance of an Enterprise Florida governing board meeting next month. The governor said the agency needs to “privatize many functions” as it reduces its reliance on public funding, and he called for Enterprise Florida to refocus its effort and mission as it becomes smaller and less flush with cash.

Scott should not have been surprised by the Legislature’s move. Lawmakers tapped the brakes on the fund last year, giving Scott about half the $85 million he requested, and the Republican House leaders have been consistent in opposing the governor’s push for $250 million, denouncing it as corporate welfare out of step with the times and free market principles. They have a point.

The issue now is how to move forward. Even without incentive money, the Legislature funded the agency’s other initiatives, from marketing to international outreach. For the fifth straight year, Florida has attracted record tourism, and together with new investments in its airports and ports the state has a compelling story to tell as a powerhouse for services and exports.

The loss of walking around money should force the governor to recast Florida as more than a low-tax, low-wage state. It is easy enough to sell the state for its year-round good weather, competitive wages and relaxed regulatory environment. Major employers, though, especially those in emerging technology industries, are looking for talent, proximity to industrial hubs and quality transportation, schools and other amenities. In his letter to the Enterprise Florida board, the governor still doesn’t seem to get it, calling for new ways to promote Florida on the cheap. The state needs a better grasp of what employers want in a modern workforce and to invest in those areas. It also needs to better target specific job sectors that are expected to grow in the coming decades.

The state could always ask the private sector to make up some of the loss in public incentive money. With 93 percent of its budget coming from state taxpayers, it is time to rebalance this “public-private partnership.” Yet it’s also important not to diminish the positive impact this united effort can have on potential employers and the state’s economy overall. The agency’s framework creates an environment for government and business to cooperate, and it fosters connections that can help employers and communities lay the foundation for fruitful relationships.

The Enterprise Florida board should refocus on the bigger picture and insist that the state’s investments in transportation, education, the environment and other core areas can compete on a national level. The board also needs to figure out how this new era will impact the work of local economic development groups. Will cities and counties be asked to do or contribute more to lure new industries? How can regions join together to more efficiently market themselves?

This is an opportunity to bring fresh perspective and a new level of accountability to the job recruiting process. It should also bring a new appreciation for growing industries that are already here.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com/

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April 10

The Northwest Florida Daily News on the BP settlement:

Six years after the BP oil spill polluted our beautiful beaches and the Gulf of Mexico, a big payout is inching closer to local coffers.

A federal judge in New Orleans granted final approval Monday of a $20 billion settlement between BP and five Gulf Coast states impacted environmentally and economically by the spill.

The approval means that BP will be sending out a first round of 15 payments over 18 years to each of the affected states.

A check for approximately $400 million should reach Florida’s State Treasury by early July, and $300 million of that has been set aside, by law, for economic development spending in eight Northwest Florida counties deemed disproportionately affected by the spill.

But there could be a lot of hemming and hawing before it actually arrives in the hands of a five-member board called Triumph Gulf Coast for distribution. If there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to money, it’s that everyone wants some.

The appropriation of the funds will be handled by the Florida Legislature, which could conceivably alter the existing funding formula and deprive Northwest Florida of some, or all, of its economic development windfall.

Hopefully, lawmakers from other parts of the state will remember that after the 2010 spill tourism along the beautiful beaches of Northwest Florida ground to a halt, and business in coastal counties from Escambia to Wakulla ground to a halt.

Bookings were down, folks were laid off, restaurants closed. And all of the people who were left unemployed or underemployed had less money to spend, which caused a ripple effect to the economy far from the coastline.

Thankfully, the environment and the economy have since rebounded, but the spill pointed out the danger Northwest Florida has put itself in by relying too heavily on the military and tourism as economic drivers.

It is hoped the BP money, an anticipated $1.6 billion to the Panhandle over the course of the settlement, will promote economic diversification. Money from the federal settlement will be used for a variety of projects benefiting visitors and locals alike.

So now that the settlement’s been finalized, all of us here in Northwest Florida need to wait, and watch, and hope.

It’s what we’ve been doing for the last six years.

We’re getting good at it.

Online: https://www.nwfdailynews.com/

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April 11

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune on state taxes:

Florida TaxWatch - an independent, private-sector organization - provides a useful service each year by publishing “How Florida Compares.”

The report details state and local tax rankings for Florida and the nation. The latest version, which includes data from the state government’s 2014 fiscal year and local governments’ FY 2013, was recently distributed.

The booklet, which can be downloaded at floridataxwatch.org, seeks to help Floridians understand who taxes what and how much, and put it all in perspective.

One striking finding, which helps explain why the recession and its aftermath dramatically affected government spending in our state: Between 2006 and 2014, total state-tax collections in Florida decreased 11.8 percent - by far the largest reduction in the United States. Only two other states experienced decreases during that time: Arizona was down 2 percent; Louisiana dropped less than 1 percent. The average increase nationwide was nearly 21 percent, and even Rust Belt states such as Michigan and Ohio experienced tax-revenue rises in mid-single digits.

Those figures indicate that Florida is particularly vulnerable to economic downturns.

This year’s report reaches many of the same conclusions as previous editions: Overall, Florida lives up to its reputation as a low-tax state - even though it relies more heavily on local government revenues, as a percentage, than all but two other states (New York and Colorado). More than half - 53.2 percent - of the total of state and local in Florida revenue comes from school districts, counties and cities. State and local governments in Florida also rely at levels greater than the national average on non-tax revenue sources, such as fees and other charges.

Florida is one of seven states without a personal income tax, which is a huge draw for retirees and business owners looking to relocate. The lack of a personal income tax, however, shifts part of the tax burden to businesses, which pay 52.6 percent of all state and local taxes in Florida - the 11th highest share in the United States and higher than the national average of 45 percent. On related notes, Florida ranks ninth in per-capita general sales-tax collections nationwide and 14th on so-called transaction taxes (levied on the sale of real estate, financial instruments and the like). The general sales tax generates 60 percent of revenue in Florida, compared with the national average of 31 percent.

In terms of state tax collections per capita, Florida ranks 49th at $1,792. Only New Hampshire has a lower burden; Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina collect slightly more per capita. This explains, in part, why Florida is among the bottom states in funding Medicaid for low-income children, other social services and education.

In per capita state and local tax collections, Florida is 45th at $3,400. Add in other forms of state and local revenue - from fees, charges for services, assessments and net lottery revenue - and Florida rises to 38th at $5,579 - far below the national average of $6,679.

The state’s reliance on local governments as revenue generators is apparent in these numbers, even though they, too, are below the national averages. Local governments in Florida rank 26th in per capita tax collections and 14th in total revenue per capita. (Florida is seventh-highest in the nation in the percentage of state and local revenue from non-tax sources.)

Rankings in revenue per $1,000 in personal income also shed light on the state’s financial situation: Florida ranks 48th in state revenues based on personal income; 39th in state and local monies; fifth in local.

Thanks to TaxWatch for helping Floridians understand where we stand, and how we compare.

Online: https://www.heraldtribune.com/

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