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Scott Wants to be Known as 'Jobs Governor'

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 17, 2010 --

If Gov. Charlie Crist is the self-proclaimed “people’s governor,” Gov.-elect Rick Scott wants to be known as Florida’s “jobs governor.”

He got another reminder this week that he’ll have to be when it was announced that Florida's unemployment rate inched up in November to 12 percent, despite seasonal jumps in tourism, healthcare and retail hiring.

All those people not working gave Florida another number this week - $3.5 billion. That’s going to be the shortfall in the budget, since not enough people are paying enough taxes to pay for everything the state spent money on this year, economists said early this week.

The state Scott will get for Christmas – or more accurately, just after – continues to be mired by slow construction and lackluster real estate markets that will make it a bit of a blue Christmas without much green.

The jobless rate, up from 11.9 percent in October and a bit higher than last November’s figure, puts the state back where it began the year, before most people had ever heard of their next governor. It comes as business groups prepare to pay higher unemployment compensation taxes beginning next year, yet another thing keeping them from taking the advice of the let’s get to work governor-elect.

The economic lump of coal was not lost on the soon-to-be 45th governor of Florida, who called the high jobless rate “inexcusable.”

Scott said having 12 percent in the 12th month of the year made the case for doing what he and other Republicans have made clear they want to do anyway: shrinking the size of state government.

"In order to turn Florida's economy around, we need to put jobs first and make sure all government expenditures are justified," Scott said in a statement. "As the 'Jobs Governor', I have already begun meeting with Floridians to identify opportunities for job growth, and I am committed to getting Florida back to work by making Florida the best place to do business."

Curiously, there was not much reaction to the week ending unemployment news from the relentlessly optimistic outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist. It did not go unnoticed by Crist’s critics that unemployment was less than four percent when he took office four years ago. These days, a four percentage point drop would still leave the rate double that figure.

However, most economic observers weren’t surprised that 2011 would begin on a down note, economically.

"There are still organizations, and businesses that are withholding spending or hiring based on a lack of stability and what future costs are expected be, whether that's health care or higher taxes," Florida Retail Federation President Rick McAllister said this week.

Luckily perhaps for the 12 percent of the Florida population who are no doubt hoping Scott can actually get them to work, Congress approved an $858 billion package of tax credits on income, investments, and estate transfers late this week that includes an extension of unemployment benefits to millions of workers as part of a compromise to keep the national recovery on track.

The news came right on time for Floridians whose benefits were about to be exhausted. It also came as Scott went to the capitol to be briefed on the sagging state budget, where the shortfall hit grew this week as analysts dialed-back the state's revenue forecast.

Collections were down this year $585.7 million, the number crunchers said, and next year’s will be even worse, to the tune of $612.2 million, with sales-tax and corporate income tax declines leading the retreat. Reserves are available to patch this year's reduction, although once they do, the state's rainy day fund will be basically dry: a meager $249 million.

That could pour water on Scott’s plans to cut $1.4 billion in property taxes and eliminate the corporate income tax, but a spokesman for the eager-to-get-to-work governor-elect said he wouldn’t shelve the plans.

“He's looking at all options," said Trey Stapleton of Scott's transition office. "But if you make a commitment in the campaign, you stand by it."

The 12 percent of Floridians who are out of work are no doubt hoping the same is true of Scott’s pledge to create 700,000 jobs in his first term.

For more on this story, please see
Florida Unemployment Rises to 12 Percent
.


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