STATE SPENDING MORE THAN ADVERTISED
TALLAHASSEE - An $82.418 billion budget approved by the Legislature in this spring's regular session was the largest in state history.
But the Tallahassee-based group Florida TaxWatch, puts the final number on spending at $85.158 billion.
“Every session, the Legislature makes a relatively small amount of appropriations in other bills, including funding for agencies to implement new programs authorized by the legislation,” TaxWatch said in a release Thursday. “This session, the Legislature took this to a new level, passing 23 bills with nearly $2.5 billion in additional appropriations.”
Among those additional appropriations were $1.5 billion in expected funding for the Low Income Pool, which provides money to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients; $419 million for a controversial education bill; $183 million for state-employee pay raises; and $64 million for a reservoir intended to help clean water in the Everglades.
Scott vetoed $308.8 million in general-revenue spending and $95.66 million from trust funds.
But TaxWatch's bottom-line number also takes into account spending approved during a June special session. Tourism-marketing money, a new funding pool for economic development and a boost to education tossed another $517.3 million into the state's spending for the fiscal year that began July 1.
FLORIDA THE MOST FISCALLY HEALTHY STATE
Florida is No. 1 among the 50 states when it comes to its fiscal health, according to a study out of a free-market think tank at George Mason University.
Measuring short-term and long-term solvency, which includes issues such as state revenue, budget reserves, bond debt and pension liabilities, the Mercatus Center tapped Florida as the top state in its annual survey of the fiscal health of the states.
“Keeping debt levels low, saving cash to pay bills and maintaining solvent budgets reflect a culture of fiscal discipline,” the report said. “The first-place position of Florida in particular demonstrates that this is possible even with a relatively larger population and higher pension costs that arise from an aging population.”
Eileen Norcross and Olivia Gonzalez, the researchers who wrote the report, said their evaluation showed Florida's budget, based on 2015 data, had at least 8.19 times the cash needed to cover short-term obligations and that revenue exceeded expenses by 7 percent.
Florida had $24.6 billion in long-term debt, but it amounted to $1,211 in per-capita debt compared to a national average of $1,804.
Florida's pension fund had the capacity to pay 86 percent of its long-term obligations, well above the national average of 74 percent, the report showed.
At the bottom of the fiscal health evaluation were No. 49 Illinois, which just passed its first budget in the past three years, and No. 50 New Jersey, where the governor drew criticism for budget-related beach closings during the 4th of July weekend (during which he was photographed on the beach).
“Each of the bottom five states exhibits serious signs of fiscal distress,” the report said. “Their large liabilities and low cash on hand raise serious concerns about their ability to pay bills.”
FLORIDA NOT IN FOXCONN'S BUSINESS RECRUITING SITES
Although Gov. Rick Scott has aggressively courted major businesses to move to Florida, including a recent recruiting trip to Connecticut, he has turned up empty-handed on big-name deals.
He tried to lure General Electric away from Connecticut only to see the company move its headquarters to Boston. Earlier, he struck out on a bid to bring the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group to Florida.
And now, reports suggest Florida is going to miss out on a potentially massive manufacturing investment.
Bloomberg News and other outlets have reported that Foxconn, the world's largest manufacturer of consumer electronics and a major supplier for Apple, is pursuing a $10 billion investment in the U.S., including a $7 billion display-making plant.
The effort could yield some 30,000 to 50,000 jobs and be a coup for President Donald Trump's efforts to revive American manufacturing.
Terry Gou, the billionaire chairman of the China-based company, has said Foxconn is looking at seven U.S. states for its investments: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas. Not making the cut: Florida.
VISIT FLORIDA: WE TOOK CANADIAN MARKET `FOR GRANTED'
Flush with a renewed bucket of state bucks, Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson is refocusing his efforts on bringing Canadian snowbirds — and their cash — south.
In Toronto this week, Lawson admitted the public-private tourism marketer had neglected its neighbors to the north.
“I think we took our eyes off the ball,” Lawson said in a report posted online byTravelweek Group. “I think we took this market for granted.”
Lawson said his agency intends to “double down” on the land of William Shatner, Bobby Orr and Justin Bieber.
“We have the snowbirds with their Florida vacation homes. They're kind of like, `We've been there, done that.' We have new Canadians. And we have the millennials, and they're saying, `We don't want to do what our grandparents did,' ” Lawson, in Toronto for meetings with travel industry leaders, was quoted as saying.
“Sure, we have Disney, we have the beaches,” Lawson continued. “But are we marketing the rest of Florida? We have craft breweries, bike trails, people can swim with a manatee, we have culture … these things matter, and they connect with Canadians.”
Tourism officials, noting Florida has increased its marketing efforts in Canada, have blamed declining Canadian visitor numbers on a weaker Canadian dollar.
Canadians accounted for 3.2 million of Florida's visitors in 2016, down from more than 4 million in 2011.
And while drawing 31.1 million domestic and international visitors during the first three months of this year — the highest number during any quarter in state history — the number of Canadian tourists dropped 2.2 percent, compared to the same period in 2016.
Visit Florida's goal “is to make sure we're diverse in our marketing, and that we're connecting,” Lawson said in the Travelweek Group report. “That's why I'm here.”
MURPHY RUNNING GROUP TRYING FIGURE MILLENNIALS
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Jupiter Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate last year, has found a position as chair of a Washington D.C.-based organization focusing on key issues that impact millennials.
Murphy, 34, will head the Future Forum Foundation, which counts among its members the 26 youngest Democratic members of Congress, including Central Florida's Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy.
“I've seen first-hand the disconnect between the leaders who serve us and our changing young workforce,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “Millennials are at the heart of every critical issue facing our nation. They are defining the future of work. By gaining a better understanding of the economic uncertainty and the disruption caused by technology and automation, we can empower a new generation of leaders to find solutions.”