Fact-checking Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s U.S. Senate announcement speech

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced April 9 he will challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, in 2018. (Youtube)

Floridians following Rick Scott since his first campaign probably weren’t surprised when the two-term Republican governor talked about jobs during his announcement to run for the U.S. Senate.

Scott described the years before his election in 2010, claiming that "this state had lost over 800,000 jobs in four years. We still had this beautiful weather, but we increased regulations, we increased taxes on people in this state. But we stopped it."

Scott, the former CEO of a hospital chain, made a number of claims about the state’s progress since the depth of the recession, points he will likely repeat as he challenges incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Our fact-checks of his speech found Scott was largely accurate on several points, but often took credit for gains that were shared nationally and were largely outside his control.

"We’ve now, you, business people, job creators, have added 1.5 million jobs, almost."

Scott touted his jobs record as governor by highlighting the 7-7-7 plan from his first campaign. In 2010, Scott promised to create more than 700,000 jobs in seven years — on top of the 1 million jobs the state would have created anyway.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida added more than 1.49 million nonfarm jobs between the end of December 2010 and February 2018, the last month for which there is data. That is positive news for the state, coinciding with the national economic recovery. But as for the specifics of Scott’s jobs promise after more than seven years, he remains 200,000 jobs short of his goal.

"10 billion in tax reductions"

To reach this amount, Scott counts any measures that reduce government revenue.

But, as we've said before, the reductions include savings that are not all the result of tax cuts. Many of the cuts are narrowly targeted and others are geared toward businesses. For instance, Scott includes the $1.8 million in savings from reducing traffic citation fines in his $10 billion total.

The list counts Florida's mostly annual sales tax holiday (which will save Floridians $38.5 million this year), the reduction on the rate on business rent tax by 0.1 percent, and reducing the local business taxes.

The list also includes reductions in fees such as lowering the cost to obtain a concealed weapons permit, and stopping an automatic fee increase to obtain a hunting or fishing license.

"Over $9 billion in debt reductions"

As of June 30, 2017, the state's total overall debt stood at $22.7 billion. That’s a decrease of $5.5 billion since December 2010, according to a December 2017 report on Florida's debt affordability. So where did the other $4 billion come from?

The total includes a $3.5 billion repayment of a loan taken out of the unemployment compensation funding 2009.

The $3.5 billion was technically money owed by the state, but it’s not usually talked about when considered outstanding state debt, said Kurt Wenner, the vice president of research at Florida TaxWatch.

Wenner said the $3.5 billion was debt to the federal government and was largely outside of Scott’s control.

"We’ve had over a 40 percent increase in tourism just in seven years."

Data from Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, shows there were 82.3 million visitors in 2010, the year before Scott took office.

That number rose to 116.5 million in 2017 — which amounts to a 41 percent increase. (The 2017 data is preliminary, but the final number isn’t expected to change much.)

The increase, not coincidentally, is tied to the economic recovery following the 2008-09 recession.

"People are flocking to Florida because this is where you can live the dream of this country. Over 300,000 people are moving to this state a year. That was not true between 2006 and 2010."

Scott’s comment appears to line up with net migration data from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Demographic Research for recent years. But experts told us Scott alone is not the force to thank.

Net migration measures the number of people moving in minus those moving out, plus the number of births minus deaths.

Net migration was about 318,000 in 2006 and 224,000 in 2007. Amid the recession, net migration nosedived to under 100,000 a year in 2008-11. Net migration started to climb again in 2012 and reached about 302,000 in 2016 and 310,000 in 2017.

While Scott touted the population increase, a governor isn’t responsible for all the factors that drive population growth, such as the national economy and a hurricane in Puerto Rico.

Christopher McCarty, director of the UF research bureau, said the slowdown in the population growth during the recession was largely due to a temporary decline in the number of people, primarily retirees, who had difficulty selling their homes to relocate to Florida. When the housing market recovered, retirees could more easily move to Florida.

"The economy is vast and complicated," McCarty said. "I don’t think any governor or president can claim responsibility for its growth or decline. Larger forces are at work."

Kwame Donaldson, an economist at Moody’s, noted that domestic migration data from the Census dating back to 1991 showed Florida has led the nation in domestic migration 19 times and come in second three times.

"It is easy to conclude that Florida’s attractiveness to migrants has little to do with Governor Scott’s policies," he said.

Florida’s main draw is the weather and beaches, but the lack of a state income tax also helps.

"Over 40 percent of homes were underwater on their mortgages the day I got elected. That's completely changed now."

Scott’s point about the flip in the housing market is right, according to companies that analyze real estate data using county public records. It is important to remember that the housing crisis was a national phenomenon, at the heart of which were national lenders, affecting several other states.

Being underwater means a homeowner owes more on their mortgage than the home is worth, and it happened to many Florida homeowners.

Numbers from CoreLogic Inc. place the percentage of underwater Florida homes in December 2010 at 50.6 percent. By December 2017, it was down to 8.5 percent.

Zillow’s figures show a similar trend. About 45 percent of Florida homes were underwater in the second quarter of 2011 (the earliest data available). As of the first quarter of 2017, the number of underwater homes was down to 9.8 percent.