Big government? High taxes? A University of Central Florida economist says Florida lawmakers’ aversion to both could prolong the state’s recovery from the financial crisis and dampen future growth.
According to a 30-year economic forecast released today by Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, Florida “scores” among the lowest of its 49 counterparts in several key economic indicators, including overall tax burden, expenditures and the number of government employees.
Despite some lawmakers’ concerns about the recent growth of federal government, Snaith says Florida leaders shouldn’t be afraid to expand state government and should stop gutting much-needed programs and institutions vital to the state’s long-term survival.
“We just went through a legislative session where, instead of raising taxes to plug some of the budget shortfall, we further gutted funding of higher education and pulled more teachers from the classroom,” Snaith says. “One of the rallying cries for this short-sighted policy decision was that taxes are ‘too high’ and government is ‘too big.’”
Also noteworthy in Snaith’s forecast are his predictions about statewide unemployment. Jobless numbers released Friday from the state showed Florida’s unemployment rate at 10.2 percent — the highest since October 1975, when unemployment hit 11 percent.
Snaith doesn’t expect Florida’s jobless numbers to go down anytime soon. He says it will take until 2018 to return to the 2008 unemployment rate average of about 6 percent.
“The state’s labor markets will serve as a lasting reminder of the economic ordeal that Florida has been through,” he said. “Years after the recession officially ends, our unemployment rate will be the unsightly scar on Florida’s economy that refuses to fade.”
Snaith’s forecast offers predictions through 2039 for Florida and its 12 metropolitan regions. Those areas are Naples, Daytona Beach-Deltona, Gainesville, Ocala, Lakeland, Palm Bay-Melbourne, Pensacola, Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and Orlando.
Long-term forecasts help decision-makers in the public and private sectors plan future projects. “That’s why we produce a 30-year forecast annually,” Snaith says. “Transportation planners, school districts, developers, utilities and others need a picture of what Florida’s economy will look like decades from now.”
Snaith’s entire forecast is available at http://www.iec.ucf.edu.