Former Gov. Jeb Bush waved off any talk of a 2016 presidential run at a meeting of Broward County business leaders on March 21, 2014. Instead, he spent a lot of time talking up Florida’s rebound from the Great Recession.
Bush said Tallahassee had been hit hard in the last few years, but was making a comeback. "The revenue of the state is growing at a faster rate than almost any state in the country, because our state has been fiscally well managed and we grew our way out of the hole," he told attendees at the Broward Workshop business breakfast in Davie.
It’s probably fair to say the state has bounced back from the worst of the economic downturn, but is the revenue rate outpacing the rest of the country? We wanted to hold Bush accountable.
State revenues can include any number of sources -- property taxes, sales taxes, corporate income taxes, agency fees and even the Lottery. Florida doesn’t have a personal income tax, relying heavily on sales tax dollars.
We asked Bush’s camp to elaborate on what the former governor meant when he made the claim, but they didn’t specify how he arrived at his conclusion.
Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, suggested looking at general revenue numbers since 2008, when the effects of the recession really began to take hold nationwide. General revenue from a state’s own sources is a better way to account for budgeting, because unlike total revenue accounting, it’s not subject to federal aid or trust fund cash.
The Institute used Census data to calculate total taxes and miscellaneous general revenue to determine how much each state brought in for fiscal year 2012, the last year with complete Census data. (Dadayan said the Census Bureau’s annual numbers are more reliable than quarterly data.)
The institute found the state’s collections for taxes and other revenue were still 7 percent lower in 2012 (almost $48 billion) compared with 2008 (almost $51.6 billion), making Florida 15th out of 19 states that had not yet rebounded to pre-recession levels.
"The numbers don’t support the statement, if we look at the bigger picture, rather than the nominal growth in the most recent quarters," Dadayan said.
If we were to look at total revenue in the same time period, Florida has risen dramatically from 2008 ($68.9 billion) to 2012 ($82.8 billion), about 20 percent. That increase is impressive until you compare it to a year earlier, when the state’s total revenue was $98.2 billion. That means Florida is down 15.7 percent since 2007.
Many reports look at revenue in terms of total taxes, including income and sales taxes, by quarters, which gives us another option for examining the data.
So what is the most recent quarterly growth rate, and how does it compare to the rest of the country?
Between the first and second quarters of 2013, Florida had a 4.5 percent increase in total tax revenues, the Rockefeller Institute reported. That makes Florida 33rd in the nation for revenue growth.
If we do that calculation as a year-over-year change from 2012 to 2013, the Institute said Florida had a 4 percent rate increase during the fourth quarter. In that measure, Florida is 17th among all states.
The National Conference of State Legislatures focused on state general fund revenues in its report on State Budget Actions for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years. That measure excluded intergovernmental funds and revenues dedicated to programs outside of the general fund, policy analyst Todd Haggerty said.
The report found Florida’s revenue increased 5.9 percent from fiscal year 2012 to 2013. That made Florida 20th on the list. For fiscal year 2014, the NCSL estimated the state’s general fund growth rate at 4.5 percent, putting Florida in a tie for seventh place with Massachusetts.
That’s a specific measure based on an estimate for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. So while there are other ways to parse numbers, there’s not much to support the claim, according to Nick Johnson, the vice president for state fiscal policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
He said the 2014 estimate should be taken with a grain of salt, because every state reports its own estimates, and those estimates have different criteria. States also account for general funds differently.
"On the whole, I'd say Florida's revenue growth lately has been mediocre, certainly nothing to brag about," Johnson said.
Bush said that "the revenue of the state is growing at a faster rate than almost any state in the country."
A few reports compiled with data encompassing different kinds of revenue can be confusing, but all paint the same picture: Florida revenues are still down from pre-recession levels, and don’t generally reflect a growth rate consistent with what Bush is claiming, either annually or in recent quarters.
There is one report that says 2014 general revenue is expected to grow at a rate in the top 10 of all states. That data is self-reported from the state, however, and is only an estimate.
According to experts we talked to, the Sunshine State is lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to getting its revenues back to pre-recession levels. We rate the statement Mostly False.