Economy: Florida’s Unemployment Rate Rises to 8.1 Percent
According to a report released by the State of Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation on January 23, 2009, Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December 2008 was 8.1 percent. The December 2008 national unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.
Florida’s December 2008 unemployment rate represented a 0.7 percentage point increase over the rate for the preceding month and an increase of 3.6 percentage points over the Florida unemployment rate for December 2007.
For calendar year 2008, job losses in the construction industry accounted for approximately 30 percent of the total 255,200 jobs lost. Other industries suffering significant job losses included trade, transportation, and utilities; professional and business services; manufacturing; and information. The only major economic sector to gain jobs was education and health care, which grew by 4.2 percent.
Among the larger counties, unemployment was highest in Hernando (10.9 percent), St. Lucie (10.5 percent), Marion (10.1 percent), and Lee (10.0 percent) counties, and lowest in Alachua (5.2 percent) and Leon (5.4 percent) counties.
State Budget: Governor Charlie Crist Likely to Veto Some Budget Cuts
During a January 22, 2009 appearance before Florida newspaper editors, Gov. Crist announced that he would use his line-item veto power to restore some of the state budget cuts enacted by the Florida Legislature during a special legislative session that ended on January 14, 2009.
Gov. Crist specifically mentioned restoring full funding for a merit-pay program for teachers and restoring funding for 66 probation officers who were laid off the day after the special session ended. Gov. Crist also stated that he might veto the one-year suspension of the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program.
The governor must take action on the special session enactments by January 29, 2009, or they will become law without his signature. At his appearance before the editors, Gov. Crist said that he intends to announce his decisions on January 27, 2009.
Public Opinion: Quinnipiac Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Gov. Crist, the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, and a Cigarette Tax Increase
In a survey released on January 21 and 22, 2009, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that Gov. Crist continues to enjoy high approval ratings from all parties and in all areas of the state. Overall, 65 percent of voters approve of the way he is handling his job as governor, and 24 percent disapprove. Republicans give the Republican governor a 72-percent approval rating, independents give him a 68-percent approval rating, and Democrats give him a 58-percent approval rating.
The Quinnipiac survey indicated that there are no breakout leaders in the race to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez. Among Democrats, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has already announced that she is not running for the U.S. Senate, led with 15 percent. The only other candidate in double digits was U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District). Among Republicans, the two leading candidates were Attorney General Bill McCollum, with 22 percent and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack (R-14th Congressional District), with 21 percent.
Quinnipiac also surveyed Florida voters’ opinions on several key public policy questions. The survey found that the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program (Bright Futures) is extremely popular. Bright Futures, which is funded by the state lottery, provides scholarships that large numbers of Florida high school graduates use at state universities. Discussions of state budget cuts have included possible limits on Bright Futures, including reducing the amount of the scholarship, raising the academic threshold for eligibility, or making the scholarship into a need-based program. The majority of respondents opposed all three options: 72 percent of voters opposed funding cuts, 54 percent opposed raising the academic threshold, and 50 percent opposed making the program need-based.
The survey also found strong support for a proposed $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax. When asked simply whether they supported or opposed the tax increase, without any reference to what the proceeds of the tax would be used for, 71 percent of respondents indicated support and 26 percent indicated opposition. When the question was changed to specify that the proceeds of the tax increase would go to health care, 77 percent of respondents supported the tax increase.
The survey of 1,370 Florida voters was conducted from January 14 – 19, 2009 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
Politics: House Speaker Ray Sansom Denies Wrongdoing
House of Representatives Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Fort Walton Beach) has begun responding to media questions about allegations that he may have been involved in violations of state ethics and open government laws. In a January 22, 2009 appearance before newspaper editors at the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee, Rep. Sansom declared, “I feel very confident that in the end, I will come out clean and completely innocent. I did nothing wrong.” The House Speaker was unwilling, however, to discuss any details.
The alleged ethical violations concern Rep. Sansom’s possible role in providing state funding for Northwest Florida State College, his possible role in passing legislation that transformed the institution from a two-year community college into a four-year college, and his employment with the college. Rep. Sansom’s resignation from the state college job will take effect on January 31, 2009. Other alleged misconduct involves a meeting between Rep. Sansom and college trustees, which may have violated the Florida open meetings law (Government in the Sunshine Law). Members of the public have filed complaints against Rep. Sansom with the Florida Commission on Ethics and with the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit (Leon County).
Willie Meggs, the State Attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, has referred the complaint against Rep. Sansom to a grand jury. On January 19, 2009, a spokesperson for State Attorney General Bill McCollum stated that the attorney general was “gathering information” about the possible Sunshine Law violation, but that the inquiry was “focused more on the college than the Speaker.”
Rep. Sansom has retained counsel to represent him on potential state and federal criminal matters and on the ethics complaint.
Public Affairs News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss this topic further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:
Michael P. Harrell
Robert H. Hosay
Jonathan P. Kilman
Thomas J. Maida
Leonard E. Schulte