Public employees constitute the biggest block of workers in 51 of Florida's 67 counties, a new TaxWatch survey shows. And in 40 counties, government workers make up two of the three largest employment groups.
The statewide study found 245 government entities -- ranging from airport authorities to school districts -- "involve significant amounts of both government involvement and funding."
With more than 250,000 employees, school districts employ nearly one of every 30 Floridians and represent either the biggest or second biggest employer in 61 counties.
County governments rank as either the first- or second-largest employer in 10 counties.
In the health-care sector government-owned medical institutions are the biggest workplace in seven counties, though the TaxWatch study notes that "even private health-care facilities are, in generally, highly dependent on government funding from programs like Medicaid and Medicare."
"There is no county in Florida that does not include at least one government entity in its top five largest employers," TaxWatch reported.
"Additionally, a public entity is the largest employer in over 75 percent of all counties."
While TaxWatch did not consider the total relative sizes of public- and private-sector work forces, the study's sample included 245 public agencies and 425 private companies.
"Putting aside the roles public entities are assigned to fulfill, it is important that Floridians understand that for many of the largest employers in their counties, their payrolls are paid by tax dollars," the study concluded.
Doug Martin, president of Florida AFSCME, a government-employee union, said the public sector has been the subject of "an all-out assault" by those who would "shrink services and middle-class jobs."
"These are good jobs with benefits, and the people in them usually have college degrees or some type of post-secondary certification. They're the backbone of the middle class," Martin told Sunshine State News.
Martin said there is "a lack of perception on the part of the public about what cities, counties and the state provide in services."
"Florida state government is the least expensive in the nation in terms of per-capita spending," he asserted.
But Chris Cinquemani, vice president of the Naples-based Foundation for Government Accountability, said, Economic recovery is slowed when government is the largest employer in a county or region because government salaries do not represent new wealth.
"Government workers are paid by tax dollars, and their spending simply recycles money that was already taken out of the economy in the form of taxes."
By contrast, Cinquemani said, "Private-sector salaries, funded by private-sector activity, create new wealth and a stronger economy.
"Florida counties should be exploring ways to increase private-sector employment opportunities, and rightsizing their government work force to promote a strong and growing local economy.
The heavy influence of the public sector spanned from Florida's smallest counties to its largest.
In rural Washington County, for example, the biggest employers, by rank, were: Florida Department of Corrections (2), Florida Department of Transportation (3), Washington County School District (4) and Washington County government (5).
In Miami-Dade, the largest employers were: Miami-Dade Public Schools (1), Miami-Dade County government (2), U.S. government (3), Florida state government (4), Jackson Health System (7) and Florida International University (10).
Public officials, speaking on background, argued that there was no contradiction between public- and private-sector job growth.
"We all want more private-sector jobs, but not at the expense of the other," said one.
The Florida Association of Counties reported that $3 billion in revenue cuts -- and an unspecified number of job reductions -- have been made at the county level since 2007, and Martin derided legislative efforts to require pension contributions by public employees.
"The Leon County Chamber of Commerce estimated that [3 percent pension requirement] took $90 million out of the county," Martin said. "That's like creating a BP oil spill in one county."
The AFSCME leader said "six years of no pay increases in Leon County has led to abandoned storefronts and closed restaurants because you have a dwindling amount of money available for spending.
"The private sector is closely intertwined with the public sector," he concluded.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has worked to add more than 100,000 private-sector jobs since taking office in 2011, declined comment Tuesday. Press secretary Lane Wright said there had not been enough time to analyze the TaxWatch study's findings.
Read the full report in the attachment below.
Reach Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.