Not-quite-yet Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush continues to sell potential voters on his eight years as Florida’s governor.
"Florida was the only state during my eight years to go from AA to AAA (in its bond rating)," Bush told business leaders in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. He added the change followed years of increasing the state’s cash reserves from $1 billion to $10 billion.
A state getting its bond rating upgraded is a relatively rare occurrence, so we wondered whether Florida was the only state to jump to a top rating while Bush was in office from 1999-2006.
Getting an upgrade
For this analysis, we’re focusing on the state’s general obligation bond rating -- that is, an expert analysis of a state’s ability to pay its debts.
This rating, which is kind of like a person’s credit score, is formulated by three major rating agencies: Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. Each reports their ratings differently, but Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee spokesman Matt Gorman told us he was referring specifically to the S&P analysis.
Gorman shared a Pew Charitable Trusts infographic that showed "S&P state credit ratings" from 2001 to 2014. The infographic shows that Florida was the only state between 2001 and 2006 to make the ratings leap Bush specified (AA to AAA).
On Feb. 25, 2005, S&P upgraded Florida’s general obligation bond rating from AA+ (which is slightly higher than their AA rating, actually) to AAA. The difference is in rating the state’s capacity to meet its debt obligations from "very strong" to "extremely strong," according to agency guidelines. For the record, Moody’s and Fitch also upgraded the state that year, but their ratings are designated differently.
S&P’s report on the upgrade said the decision was "based on the state's strong and conservative financial and budget management practices, coupled with substantial budget reserves and economic trends that have been among the strongest nationally."
The report also cited stable state revenue, a moderate debt burden and a service-based economy that was growing faster than the national average as among other reasons for the upgrade. S&P’s analysis said Florida’s outlook was stable due to "the state's strong budget reserves and demonstrated track record of active budget management and long-term planning and forecasting."
Bush wants to take credit for this budget management, and he could lay some claim to the idea. He was well-known during his tenure for regularly using the line-item veto to discard hundreds of millions in spending on budgeted projects Bush deemed wasteful or that didn’t follow his agenda. Taking the red pen to the Legislature’s final budgets helped build the state’s cash reserves from $1.3 billion to $9.8 billion by 2006, so Bush’s numbers there are pretty accurate. The Legislature actively socked cash away in state coffers during this time.
So, yes, Florida was the only state to make the jump looking at data between 2001 and 2014.
But there’s one problem: Bush became governor in 1999. Those two years make a big difference.
We asked S&P for its history of state ratings and found two instances that counter Bush’s claim: On Feb. 22, 2000, S&P upgraded Delaware from AA+ to AAA. On Sept. 27, 2000, the agency did the same for Michigan. (It was downgraded back to AA+ in 2003.)
Florida, for the record, still enjoys the AAA rating it earned in 2005, with an outlook S&P now considers stable.
Bush said, "Florida was the only state during my eight years to go from AA to AAA (in its bond rating)."
Florida’s general obligation bond rating was upgraded by Standard & Poor’s Rating Services in 2005. But both Delaware and Michigan were upgraded from AA+ to AAA by the S&P in 2000, which was during Bush’s second year in office. The information Bush’s PAC cited did not include his first two years in office.
We rate his statement False.