Good news! The economy is improving.
Nationally, a strong jobs report showed 203,000 jobs added in November and a .3 of 1 percent drop in unemployment to 7 percent. The stock market has reached an all-time high, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at more than 16,000.
Likewise, in the state of Florida there’s more good news. More private-sector jobs have been added each month and unemployment has dropped to 6.7 percent.
All Americans should be pleased with the signs of a consistently improving economy. Interestingly though, depending one’s political leanings and party affiliation, there’s a game of credit-seeking and blame-affixing going on. One needs to suspend reality to fully comprehend the arguments.
For example: How is it possible to decry President Obama, a Democrat, and his handling of the economy while praising Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, or vice versa, when the numbers are tracking pretty closely?
Sadly, the answer is that it’s all about winning the next election.
Let’s look at what’s happening in Florida. Gov. Scott campaigned in 2010, at the height of the recession, on the single issue of creating jobs. He promised to add 700,000 jobs in seven years on top of the 1 million jobs estimated by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
To his credit, Scott spends the majority of his time trying to fulfill this promise. He has been on more than a dozen trade missions. He makes cold calls to businesses large and small. He invites businesses in states with Democratic governors to leave their current state and come to Florida. He attends ribbon-cuttings and ground-breakings on an almost daily basis, believing none is too small to tout. He goes on TV and radio, especially friendly media, to extol the virtues of doing business in Florida. He uses our tax dollars, a lot of them, to entice businesses to move or expand.
One cannot fault him for not trying. But one can, and should, ask, “Are these efforts effective?”
This governor insists on accountability. He is bullish on measurable outcomes and the use of assessment tools. In fact, he enthusiastically supported grading teachers based on how well their students perform.
Certainly he would welcome that same accountability in measuring his campaign promise of creating 1.7 million jobs in seven years, especially since he has used a sizable sum of taxpayer dollars — $266 million so far — to do so.
The challenge in measuring these outcomes is twofold: It is difficult to obtain or trust the numbers coming from the responsible agencies, and it is almost impossible to identify the determining factor in creating the jobs.
The Miami Herald, in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Times, conducted a comprehensive six-month review of Gov. Scott’s job record.
Among their findings:
• 406,000 private-sector jobs have been created since January 2011, when Gov. Scott took office.
• A loss of 49,163 jobs at companies with more than 100 employees.
• The loss of 37,736 jobs at companies with fewer than nine employees.
• More than 5,300 of the lost jobs came from manufacturing industries.
While it’s difficult to determine definitively who to credit for the private-sector job gains and losses, it’s fair to say the governor and Legislature are partially responsible through their actions and policies.
It would also be reasonable to credit others: the president and Congress, local governments, consumer spending and demand, banks and investors, big businesses, entrepreneurs, small mom-and-pop businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development councils and our educational institutions.
The newspapers were able to draw a more direct correlation to the jobs that were tied to the governor’s efforts involving incentives. Gov. Scott and his Department of Economic Opportunity initiated 342 deals promising 45,258 jobs using $266 million in taxpayer-funded incentives. So far, 46 of these deals have collapsed and 96 percent of the promised jobs have yet to materialize.
I’ve long been a critic of using tax dollars for this purpose, believing that there was little record of success or accountability. These numbers lend credence to my fears.
So when the press releases go out, the ribbon-cuttings and ground-breakings are held and the announcements are made, one has to ask: Are the governor and his team directly responsible for creating real jobs or are they just seizing on a really good taxpayer-funded PR opportunity?
We all want the governor to be successful at fostering a job-rich Florida, but we expect him to be honest with us on the status of these deals and accountable for the millions of our tax dollars that he is throwing at them.
The governor gets an “A” for effort, but a “C-” based on the performance of his Department of Economic Opportunity.
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.