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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 31, 2013

If you account for inflation, he's met the goal

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to set the clock back on state and local expenditures.

During his 2010 campaign he said as part of his plan: "Return Florida's state and local expenditure burden to at least the 2004 level before spending ballooned out of control."

We previously rated Scott's promise In the Works, because he had achieved that drop for the state portion, but the local picture was more murky.

After two additional sessions, we wanted to check on Scott's progress.

Scott's office sent us back a chart they created that showed spending per capita, taking into account inflation and population growth.

State general revenue expenditures rose from $24.5 billion in 2004-05 to $26.8 billion for the upcoming 2013-14 year. When we plug those figures into the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, the dollars in 2004 would equal about $30.16 billion in 2013.

Plus, during that time period the state's population grew by about 1.8 million. So if we compare the per capita spending from 2004-05 to 2013-14 -- whether we adjust for inflation or not -- Scott has achieved his promise on the state portion.

Now let's look at local spending -- again which grew in sheer dollars between 2004-05 and 2012-13. (Local governments will set their budgets for the 2013-14 year before October.)

Cities: $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion. If we adjust for inflation, the 2004 number would be $3.4 billion.

Counties: $7.6 billion to $8.4 billion. If we adjust for inflation, the 2004 number would be $9.24 billion.

School districts: $8.8 billion to $10.4 billion. If we adjust for inflation, the 2004 number would be $10.7 billion.

Scott's analysis shows that real per capita spending that takes inflation into account shows a drop in property tax collections for cities, counties and school districts.

This isn't a perfect apples-to-apples comparison for cities since there are new ones since 2004.

We sent Scott's analysis to Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness within the College of Business Administration. Snaith agreed that it is appropriate to factor in inflation and population growth.

However he offered a caveat.

"The question is what drove those declines,” he said. "We know the economy went through a severe recession and the housing market virtually collapsed taking with it revenues from property taxes, revenues from sales taxes were similarly affected. You've got to balance the budget. Did the recession and housing crisis lead to this outcome as opposed to premeditated policies?”

We sent Scott's analysis to Ken Small, the Florida League of Cities finance and tax expert. While Scott's promise related to expenditures, the numbers he cited were property taxes levied -- which isn't the same thing. (There is more of a time lag to collect data on actual expenditures.)

Property taxes are only one source of income for cities that are used in spending -- cities also collect business taxes, utility taxes, and assessments among other charges.

The  2007-08 year was the peak year for property taxes being levied -- the numbers have since dropped. The declines are a result of the economic downturn and decisions by cities - - not mandates by the governor since then. (Charlie Crist was in office before Scott took over in 2011.)

The 7-7-7 campaign document in which Scott made his promise about returning spending to 2004 levels didn't specify if the promise was related to per capita spending or would take into account inflation, but we think those are fair adjustments.

We rate this Promise Kept.

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 6, 2012

State spending has dropped, local spending less clear

As part of his "7-7-7" economic plan, Rick Scott promised to return state and local government expenditures to at least the 2004 level, before, as Scott put it, "spending ballooned out of control."

At the stave level, Scott is already there.

Looking at general revenue expenditures, which are the funds Scott has the most control over, budgeted expenses in 2004-05 totaled about $24.5 billion. In 2011-12 budgeted expenses totaled about $23.2 billion.

There is a small caveat to these figures. Scott and the Legislature have used state trust fund dollars to help fund general revenue projects by "sweeping" trust funds. The 2011-12 budget included nearly $389 million in trust fund sweeps and Scott's proposed 2012-13 budget includes $147 million in sweeps.

As for the local level, the picture is less clear.

The Florida Association of Counties directed us to their report about preliminary county property taxes, which showed in fiscal year 2012 counties had about $8.53 billion in tax levies -- a level slightly below 2005 and above the 2004 figure of $7.64 billion.

"If current economic trends continue, counties will remain near or below 2004-05 revenue levels until after 2013-14...," the report states. "Three major factors have impacted property taxes in Florida since 2007: the recession and resulting decline in property values, the implementation of the roll back rates (2007) and Amendment 1 (2008)."

Meanwhile, we found Florida Department of Revenue data showing that cities collected of about $3.4 billion 2010-11 compared to $2.8 billion in 2004-05. This isn't a perfect apples to apples comparison however since there are new cities since 2004. Department of Revenue data shows $8.8 billion in school operating taxes collected for 2004 compared to about $11.09 billion in 2010-11.

Those figures are taxes collected, which isn't necessarily the same as expenditures.

While Scott seems to be on solid ground on the state level, we need more time to understand the expenditure picture at the local level and what Scott did to control local taxes. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

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