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Florida’s Stubborn Rebound: A budget surplus in an election year

Florida’s economic rebound has yet to reverse a stubbornly high poverty rate or grow household incomes pinched by the Great Recession, according to the latest Census Bureau data.

Figures show median household income and poverty levels were flat statewide during 2012 compared with the previous year. Florida’s poverty rate of 17.1 percent in 2012 remained among the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, household income declined 10 percent locally during the recession and has yet to bounce back.

Economists point to the relatively slow pace of the economic recovery through 2012 in explaining the data. One of Florida’s main economic drivers — the housing market — only began to pick up in the second half of 2012 and early 2013.

With the recovery expected to build through the end of this year and into 2014, the benefits should start to be more broadly felt..

But poverty and median household income are not expected to return to pre-recession levels soon. It could take years of solid job growth to compensate for the severe downturn.

Budget Surplus/Election Year

Florida Republicans could rekindle the giving season in the Capitol next year thanks to a convergence of the political and real-world economies.

As home sales, tourism and consumer spending increase, Florida government is poised to return to some semblance of the “glory days” of growth budgets from the 1990s and mid-2000s.

Last month, state-revenue experts upgraded state government’s budget picture by more than $400 million for next year, adding to an already-expected surplus that could exceed $1 billion by the time lawmakers draft their 2014-15 budget.

Coming in an election year – when all 120 House members and 20 Senate seats are up – expect lawmakers to use those dollars to deliver benefits to preferred constituencies.

And the money bump comes at a great time for a man in need of a lot of voter-ingratiating: Gov. Rick Scott.

In making his case for re-election, the biggest unfulfilled piece of Scott’s “7-7-7″ jobs plan from 2010 is his promise to eliminate the corporate-income tax, which generates about $2.1 billion a year. Lawmakers have simply refused to go along with a massive tax break for the mostly larger companies in Florida that actually pay most of the tax.

But immediately after the revenue surplus was announced, House budget chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, suggested the additional cash could be used during an election-year session to “provide a significant tax break for Florida businesses.”

GOP legislators have a stake in making Scott look as good as possible heading into what could be a massively expensive race against Democrat Charlie Crist.

But lawmakers also know better than to deliver a blanket tax cut to giant corporations. Although most everybody shops at Home Depot and Publix, the average voter probably doesn’t want to see those companies getting bigger tax breaks than they already enjoy in Florida’s “business-friendly” environment.

The past few years, lawmakers have chipped away at the tax by raising the exemption for smaller businesses – with the result that nearly all of the companies that had been paying the tax are now off the rolls, leaving only larger companies. This year, lawmakers also cut sales taxes on manufacturing equipment.

Any additional tax break could also hinge on satisfying the Senate’s insistence on slashing the motorist fees that the Legislature and then-Gov. Crist jacked up in 2009.

House leaders balked last spring at the Senate’s plan to do away with a $220 million tax break for insurance companies and use those revenues to reduce vehicle-registration fees.

All that seemed to figure in Scott’s announcement at a conservative conference that he will “fight to cut taxes and fees for Florida families by half a
billion dollars in our next proposed budget.

“It’s your money – not the government’s,” he added.

Even before the announcement, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he will push to cut fees.

“Large corporations have done well and deserved to do well in recent years in the Florida tax code. I think it’s past time to pay attention to the average family,” Gaetz said.

Legislative and Political Issues

Foreclosures

Initial statistics indicate that HB 87 may have had the effect of slowing down foreclosures, according to a news article in the Florida Current. The latest RealtyTrac report shows that initial foreclosure filings are down 28 percent in July 2013 as compared to July 2012. Representative Passidomo stated that the rebound in the housing market has caused lenders to entertain more short sales. Foreclosure defense advocates are speculating that requirements in the law for banks to have their paperwork in order prior to filing may also be slowing the banks down. It is too early to tell what the long term impacts will be, and the Florida Bankers Association has said that their members are still figuring out how to use the new law.

Citizens Inspector General

The Florida Cabinet will select from a list of four finalists for the newly-created Citizens Inspector General position. The candidates include:

Hector Collazo, Jr – current inspector general for the Pinellas County Clerk of Court;
Thomas Raferty – former member of the FBI who is now with the Delaware River Port Authority;
Bruce Meeks – former member of the state attorney general’s office who is now a partner with the law office of Roberts & Meeks in Tallahassee; and
R. David Holmgren – currently deputy inspector general for inspections and evaluations at the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The Cabinet is scheduled to meet September 24, but it is unknown whether the appointment will be made at that time. This list of candidates was narrowed from 88 in July to the current four finalists. The finalists were chosen by a three-member selection committee led by Governor Scott’s Inspector General Melinda Miguel.

Stand Your Ground

Senator Chris Smith (D – Ft. Lauderdale) has filed SB 122. The Senate Democratic Office stated in a press release that this legislation would close the so-called “last man standing” loophole in the stand your ground law. SB 122 would prevent someone from leaving a safe place to initiate a confrontation and then claiming self-defense. Politico has reported that since stand your ground became law, the number of justifiable homicide cases by civilians in Florida has increased by 200 percent. The Tampa Bay Times reported that in one-third of the cases analyzed in an investigation it conducted, defendants successfully used stand your ground where the defendant was the initial aggressor and the other party was unarmed. Senator Smith filed similar legislation last session that did not receive a hearing. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on stand your ground during its meeting on September 23. The Subcommittee Chair, Representative Matt Gaetz (R – Ft. Walton Beach) has indicated that he supports the law in its current form. A recent poll indicates that 50 percent of Floridians support keeping the law intact, while 31 percent want it changed, and 13 percent support a full repeal.

Florida Economic News

Unemployment in Florida Holds Steady, Number of Jobs Increases

Florida’s unemployment rate held steady at 7.1 percent for the third straight month in July. However, Florida added 27,600 jobs during July. The unemployment rate remains the lowest since September 2008. Florida’s 12-month job growth rate is 1.9 percent, above the national rate of 1.7 percent.

Florida Housing Update

Florida’s housing trend continued to improve in July, according to a report released by the Florida Realtors. Sales and prices for homes and condos rose in the year-over-year comparison. During this timeframe, sales of existing single-family homes rose 20.9 percent and the median sales price rose 18.5 percent. Condo sales increased by 16.8 percent and the median sales price rose 21.9 percent.

A national report issued in August indicates that Floridians have received $9.2 billion from the national mortgage settlement and that 120,000 Floridians have received aid so far. The report also indicates that most of the $9.2 billion came from lenders forgiving loans or liens in order to facilitate the sale of homes.

2014 Session Dates

September 23, 2013 – Interim Committee Week
October 7, 2013 – Interim Committee Week
November 4, 2013 – Interim Committee Week
December 9, 2013 – Interim Committee Week
January 6, 2014 – Interim Committee Week
January 13, 2014 – Interim Committee Week
February 3, 2014 – Interim Committee Week
February 10, 2014 – Interim Committee Week
February 17, 2014 – Interim Committee Week
January 24, 2014 – Senate Bill Drafting Request Deadline
January 28, 2014 – Senate Bill Drafting Approval Deadline
March 4, 2014 – Legislative Session Convenes
Bill Filing Deadline – 12:00 p.m.
May 2, 2014 – Legislative Session Scheduled to Conclude

Robert M. Levy

Robert M. Levy & Associates represents several statewide organizations including the Florida Community Financial Services Association, the Florida Nurses Association, the Florida Midwives Association, the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida, the Florida Association of Professional Process Servers and the Florida Mover and Warehousemen’s Association. Mr. Levy attended Valley Forge Military Academy & Pennsylvania State University. He is an honorably discharged veteran of the US Army.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Economy, Must Read, Politics

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