Rick Scott, Charlie Crist at odds over Florida’s economic future

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At a debate four years ago, Republican Rick Scott promised to create 700,000 jobs in seven years.

The moderator, Antonio Mora, then pointed out that economists expect Florida to add more than 700,000 jobs over seven years.

“Our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs … on top of what normal growth would be,” Scott responded.

Mora added that economists expected to add one million jobs, making Scott’s promise 1.7 million openings over seven years. This is in a state where, at the time, 1 million people were unemployed.

“We’re going to grow the state,” Scott insisted.

Four years later, writes Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida, Scott’s biggest talking point for re-election was his record on job creation.

By October 2011, Scott began backing off on his promise of creating “700,000 jobs over seven years regardless of what the economy might otherwise gain or lose.”

It is a subtle change that fundamentally alters the meaning of his promise.

During his re-election bid, that became his story, and he is sticking to it, particularly against Democrat Charlie Crist, the former governor who oversaw a job market hamstrung by a worldwide economic downturn.

“Normal growth under Charlie Crist, when Governor Scott was running, was negative, says spokesperson Jackie Schutz in an email to the News Service of Florida. “Over the last 3.5 years, we have created over 640,000 private sector jobs. Normal growth under Charlie Crist was losing 832,000 jobs

“So under that scenario,” she adds, “if Charlie hadn’t run away from his job as governor, we could have lost 2 million jobs.”

Private sector jobs have become Scott’s focus, but he omits the loss of about 29,000 government jobs between January 2011 and August 2014, based on reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Monday, Scott released his “Florida 2020 Plan,” which is a repackaging of several promises made by the governor over the past several months, now called his “vision.”

Parts of the plan include funding for education, early learning and the environment, as well as $1 billion in tax cuts and infrastructure investments, insisting the added spending would spur job growth.

Since Florida’s economy is still fresh in the minds of voters, Scott’s 7-7-7 plan, or what parts the Legislature was able to pass, will be a factor on Nov. 4.

Crist is still holding Scott’s feet to the fire on the promise of 1.7 million jobs, saying Scott apparently is falling far short of that goal.

“Rick Scott didn’t just move the goalpost to cheat Floridians, he pretended it was never there,” says Crist spokesperson Kevin Cate in an email to the News Service.

Jobs in Florida are right around what was projected by the University of Central four years ago, if not a little less. But it’s very difficult to tie any policies of any governor to the state’s recovery.

However, that may not matter to voters. A late August poll by the University Of Florida Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 found that 71 percent of respondents believe a governor has a “great deal of control” over the state’s economy.

Making it more difficult to track is the fact that parts of the 7-7-7 plan are either incomplete or dead, such as phasing out corporate income tax over seven years.  Reducing the rate would be a $1.8 billion hit to the state budget. Instead, lawmakers shrunk the tax, increasing exemptions and putting it on the state by tens of millions of dollars here and there.

“The governor is committed to phasing (out) the corporate income tax,” Schutz said, “and has made it a priority every year to get it reduced.

“And we have made great progress,” she added, “more than 70% do not have to pay it now.”

Meanwhile, Crist offers his “Fair Shot Florida” plan, promising to refocus on growing the middle class, which includes lowering cost of living, a raise of the minimum wage, and small business investment.

Crist calls to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, currently a politically popular move. He also proposes funding business incubators and reestablishing the Office of Small Business Advocacy, as well as expanding eligibility of the state’s Medicaid program.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.