TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s sunny view of Florida’s economy stands in stark contrast to a darker message his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has been sending.
Scott last week hailed another decline in the state’s unemployment rate as a sign that Florida, the largest of the presidential swing states, is well on the road to recovery. Romney, meanwhile, continued to portray a much more pessimistic picture of the nation’s economy, Florida included.
“Florida’s jobless rate moved to its lowest point in more than three years and is a clear sign we are moving Florida in a direction that gives businesses and job creators the confidence they need to grow and expand,” Scott said in a statement Friday, when Florida’s April unemployment rate was announced.
It dropped 0.3 percentage point to 8.7 percent.
A few days earlier, Romney said in Iowa that the nation was “enduring the most tepid recovery in modern history” for which he blamed Democratic President Barack Obama.
Scott is one of several Republican governors elected two years ago in key presidential states who have been upbeat about their states’ economies, and that’s making it harder for Romney to make his case.
Florida Republican Party spokeswoman Kristen McDonald, though, said the dichotomy between Scott’s and Romney’s economic messages is not a problem.
“We don’t see it as two opposing ideas,” McDonald said Monday. “Florida’s doing well under Gov. Scott but not as well as it could be if we had a national partner that would help put policies in place like Gov. Scott has done here in our state.”
Her counterpart with the Florida Democratic Party doesn’t see it as a problem, either.
“Gov. Rick Scott has been Florida’s top cheerleader for President Obama’s economic accomplishments,” party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan wrote in an email. “Not only is the GOP sending mixed messages to voters, but Scott’s argument undercuts the central premise of Romney’s campaign.”
If the recovery in Florida and other states is as rosy as the GOP governors say it is, shouldn’t Obama get some credit?
Asked that question recently, Scott said: “The truth is there’s a bunch of individuals that feel comfortable building their businesses. They take the financial risk. They’re the ones that are hiring people.”
Scott, though, was just being modest, according to a 30-second television ad the Republican Party of Florida ran in March. It credits the governor and GOP-controlled Florida Legislature for what the ad touted as an improving economic outlook.
A female narrator said companies are hiring and putting more people to work while the unemployment rate is at a three-year low. She then said: “So what’s changed? Gov. Rick Scott’s cutting the red tape, getting government off the backs of businesses. Over a dozen new pro-business initiatives passed by Gov. Scott and Republican legislators. Florida’s getting back to work.”
That contrasts with a TV spot the Romney campaign ran in January just before Obama made a visit to Florida. It featured various Floridians saying “Dear President Obama, welcome to Florida.” One woman then says: “Things aren’t working and we’re scraping by.” Others also complained about the state’s sputtering economy.
So who’s right? Scott or Romney?
“In some ways they’re both correct or looking at it from a different perspective,” said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “Gov. Scott is focused on Florida. That’s where he has his realm of influence and even so that influence is limited.”
Scott cannot control national and global economic factors and even a president cannot counteract what’s happening in the business cycle or international economy, Snaith said. He said the recovery nationally and in Florida has been “weak” and “underwhelming.”
The April labor statistics show Florida lost 2,700 jobs last month, but the unemployment rate still went down because the labor force shrank by 28,000 workers as people gave up looking for employment.
Florida, though, has gained 52,600 jobs since April 2011, an increase of 0.7 percent over the year, but that was just half the national job growth rate.
The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research issued a report on May 1 saying that while Florida’s economy has improved, it continues to lag behind most of nation. It noted the state’s personal income grew 3.5 percent in 2011 — 45th in the nation and below the national average of 4.3 percent.
It also noted Florida’s housing market is generally improving but existing home sales are sputtering and prices remain flat. Foreclosures still are high — Florida had the second highest number of filings in the first quarter of 2012 — and about half of all residential mortgages are under water.
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