Thanks to Rick Scott and GOP Legislature, 'Florida Is Open for Business Again,' says Economist
Around the State
Rick Scott may not be doing too hot in the polls, but an economist for one of the nation's most influential think tanks says the governor's policies have done wonders for Florida, and lawmakers would do well to continue to stay the course he and Republican legislators have set in the past two years.
“Certainly Florida has moved in the right direction; based on the data, it seems that Florida is once again a model for other states to emulate,” Jonathan Williams, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force director at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) tells Sunshine State News.
“Florida has recovered in a better way than many other states. Phasing down the business tax burden as the governor is trying to do; taking a hard look, as the Legislature has, at pension reform; those things are sending a message to businesses and other states: Florida is open for business again.”
Though Florida was hit especially hard by the real estate bubble and the recent economic crisis, under Scott and a GOP super-dominated Legislature the state “started living within its means, cut spending down, and made more efficiencies in government,” Williams explains, while other states – including California and much of New England – “took the opposite path: more government and higher taxes, and now they're paying the price.”
Cutting down on government goodies might not be popular, he suggests, but economic flourishing depends on it.
Visiting Tallahassee at the invitation of Americans for Prosperity, the limited government grassroots organization whose Florida chapter is lobbying the House and Senate this week on behalf of its fiscally conservative legislative agenda, Williams is spending the next couple of days visiting activists and opinion-makers, urging them to continue Florida's trend of reducing onerous taxes and regulations.
“Florida has a fantastic climate for tax policy, one that other states are looking to emulate,” he explains, citing several governors, like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Pat McCrory of North Carolina, who are fighting to eliminate their states' income taxes. “People like Florida because they see many of the states without income taxes far outperforming states with high tax rates.”
Still, Williams said, “there's work to be done,” referring to the income tax on businesses, the unfunded liability of the state pension system, and what he says is an unfavorable tort liability climate. These factors led to ALEC's having ranked Florida's economic outlook 13th in the nation, in its “Rich States, Poor States" report, which Williams co-authored.
“However, all that being said, Florida still has a competitive tax climate and it's evidenced by all the people moving here,” he says. “People who are from high-tax states are voting with their feet, and Florida has capitalized on that.”
Williams goes to great pains to connect the fortunes of of Florida's businesses with those of “the little guy”: “If you have a more favorable business climate, that's going to create more opportunity for workers. There's a reason why people come from other states to live and find jobs in Florida: there are jobs in Florida.”
Even pension reform implicates the private sector, Williams explains, because unfunded liabilities are typically made up for by raising personal and corporate taxes: “Once pensions are put on a solvent path – like Michigan, Utah, Rhode Island have done – that adds a lot more business predictability and certainty.”
Though ALEC has not taken a position on Medicaid expansion or the establishment of state-based health insurance exchanges, Williams articulates his professional skepticism that any good can come from either of them, at least in the long-term.
“There is a reason we have $16 trillion in federal debt; there's a reason states continue to lose their autonomy: no one is willing to say 'no' to these ostensibly 'free' federal dollars,” he opines. “At some point, someone has to be honest about the fact that these are not 'free' dollars. These are being paid for by federal tax dollars which are in turn being paid by Florida taxpayers.
“If more states woke up and got that picture, I think our country overall would be much better off.”
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.