As the grand marshal of a Tallahassee parade, Florida Gov. Rick Scott smiled and waved to crowds lined up along the route for "Springtime Tallahassee," an annual Capital City celebration on April 2, 2011. Some people in the crowd, though, weren’t exactly waving back -- at least, not with their hands.
Hundreds wielded "Pink Slip Rick" picket signs and booed. Their posters were hard to ignore, and not just for an eye-catching splash of hot pink. The signs accuse Scott of losing 331,247 jobs.
This number stirred our curiosity for a few reasons. One, it's oddly precise. Also, it’s huge! How could Scott, the self-proclaimed "Jobs Governor" who swore to bring 700,000 jobs to the Sunshine State in seven years, eliminate hundreds of thousands of positions so quickly?
We thought we'd begin by checking Florida's most recent unemployment statistics. The state's unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percent from January 2011, when Scott was inaugurated, to February 2011, hitting 11.5 percent. Interestingly, the number of non-agricultural jobs increased by 22,700 in that span.
We took a closer look.
The Pink Slip Rick campaign is sponsored by Florida Watch Action, an upstart progressive group that also had a hand in the Dirty Hari website targeting Mike Haridopolos, Florida Senate president and U.S. Senate candidate. The executive director of Florida Watch Action is Susannah Randolph, wife to Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, and former campaign manager to former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. (Remember the "Taliban Dan" ad?)
PinkSlipRick.com offers a "Get The Facts" page, breaking down how it reaches 331,247 lost jobs, with linked sources copied here:
• 135,000 jobs from moving Medicaid to a state-run program
• 113,065 construction jobs from Scott stalling SunRail contract
• 1,849 in layoffs from Department of Children and Families, as outlined in Scott’s proposed budget
• 20,000 teacher layoffs, per Scott’s budget proposal
• 49,900 job losses for rejecting high-speed rail
• 1,690 jobs cut from state prison system
We have an immediate problem, as those figures fall short of Pink Slip Rick's count by about 9,700 jobs. Randolph sent us a spreadsheet accounting for more "lost jobs," and we’ll get into those in a second.
Medicaid: Scott wants to turn over more control of the state-administered Medicaid system to managed-care companies, namely HMOs, to save state money. But the federal government, which pays for more than half of the program, needs to sign off on major changes such as these, and getting a waiver isn't so easy.
The Florida Senate has proposed withdrawing from the Medicaid program if the federal government doesn't approve of its new bill to expand managed care. The House, which also wants more HMO involvement, has made no such proposal to withdraw from federal oversight of Medicaid. The governor's team has discussed the merits of withdrawing, but the governor has made no such proposal and hasn't spoken in favor of it.
His health and human services transition team recommended expanding a current Medicaid waiver for a small pilot program to statewide, but Scott said at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27 that he would prefer a block grant of federal money for Medicaid. "You give me a block grant, let me do whatever I want, and I will cover the right people," he said.
Pink Slip Rick attributes the loss of 135,000 jobs to a January 2011 report from the Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy, a Tallahassee think-tank focused on low- and moderate-income families and small businesses. According to the report, the state would lose $11.7 billion in federal matching funds and 135,000 jobs representing $5.6 billion in wages next year if it received a complete federal waiver (which is not what Scott proposed).
The exact number of eliminated jobs -- doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. -- would depend on several political variables and business-related decisions, said the report's author, the center's House policy analyst Greg Mellowe. He's also the policy director of Florida CHAIN, a liberal health advocacy group. The prospects of receiving a federal waiver this year are next to impossible, he said, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services won't make a decision on a waiver until June. That's too late for the legislative session, which ends May 6.
Given the improbability of obtaining a waiver for expansion, and that Mellowe's estimate of lost jobs would only happen with a total federal waiver (which isn't on the table), Mellowe said it isn't fair to include his estimate of 135,000 into Pink Slip Rick's tally. "No one thinks this is really a reality-based scenario," Mellowe said.
SunRail: Scott froze this contract as part of his review of hundreds of contracts exceeding $1 million since his inauguration. Pink Slip Rick cites a one-page summary report from the City of Orlando, which says creation of the Orlando commuter train will bring 113,065 construction jobs for transit-oriented development. We traced that figure to an executive summary of the SunRail project by the Florida Department of Transportation. The report elaborates on that estimate of construction jobs, which would be created within a half-mile of the commuter train line over 20 years. Development doesn't happen overnight.
The estimate by Pink Slip Rick seems arbitrary, as it doesn't differentiate among direct construction jobs for the train, train operations and maintenance jobs, and indirect and direct jobs created as a result of development over time. Either way, the number of "jobs lost" here is unclear because the fate of SunRail is under review. Still, Pink Slip Rick counts them as lost jobs.
Teachers and high-speed rail: PolitiFact Florida has been down these two roads before, and Pink Slip Rick.com even links to our Truth-O-Meter rulings to corroborate its count. But we find that misleading. Our stories on teacher layoffs and high-speed rail do not endorse these figures.
We gave Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith a Half True when he said Scott’s budget would lay off 20,000 teachers. One of the problems we found is that Scott's budget proposal cuts education by an amount that equals 20,000 teacher salaries -- but it doesn't specifically eliminate teacher positions. That would be up to local school districts how they handle the cuts. We also cited the constitutional classroom-size requirement as a factor that could force districts to avoid widespread layoffs, and the fact that districts will see some cost savings from teachers contributing a percentage of their salaries to their pensions.
We also checked exaggerated job projections by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown in the $2.4 billion high-speed rail money that Scott rejected. We found that the Florida Department of Transportation estimated that the project would have created 49,900 "job-years" in Florida, but a job-year is not the same as a job. Basically, it refers to the number of jobs that will be funded each year. The proposed line connecting Tampa and Orlando would have created construction and construction-spinoff jobs for parts of four years, peaking at a total of 21,600 jobs in the second year of construction. Randolph's site mislabels job-years as jobs, an important distinction.
DCF and prisons: Pink Slip Rick got the number of proposed layoffs in the departments of Corrections and Children and Families right, but that doesn't mean those jobs should count as eliminated positions. Scott's budget is really a recommendation for the Legislature, which members can use, adjust or ignore as they craft the state's actual budget.
Here's why the Pink Slip Rick figures don't add up on the web: In addition to the cuts in prisons and DCF staff, the web site counts all of Scott's proposed cuts to state government workers for the next two years. That's a total of 13,282 jobs, and it's not clear those are included because they aren't listed in the breakdown of jobs on the site. But those jobs also aren't "lost" either; they are in Scott's proposed budget, but that's not a fact yet. So just because we can see how Randolph got her grand total doesn't mean it reflects an accurate number of lost jobs.
Randolph, reached by phone, says she isn’t just counting jobs already cut by Scott, as the signs claim, but jobs lost or stalled by his refusal of federal money and review of contracts, she said.
"From where we sit, he’s turning jobs away," Randolph said. "This is specifically to call him out on ‘what jobs are you creating?' "
But that’s not what Pink Slip Rick advertised on picket signs and online. The signs read "Jobs Lost Under Pink Slip Rick -- 331,247." We find this tally deceptive for its mixture of proposed layoffs and job projections. The Medicaid jobs total is based on a change that Scott isn't proposing. The SunRail jobs are still up in the air, awaiting a decision from Scott. Teachers may well be affected by the budget, but we've already ruled that 20,000 is not likely. Prison and DCF jobs depend on what the Legislature does, and that's still an unknown. As for high-speed rail, yes, we've ruled that those jobs won't be coming -- but there were only 21,600 of them at the peak of construction.
So Pink Slip Rick has pulled together a bunch of numbers but is misrepresenting what they mean. You can't just lump the governor's cost-saving proposals, which need legislative approval and will undergo tinkering by lawmakers, and vague estimates stemming from rumored policy decisions into one sum and label it "Jobs Lost." We rate Pink Slip Rick's claim Pants on Fire.