Florida’s tide of red ink recedes again — hitting nine-year low

Florida's debt level in 2016 at a nine-year low.
Florida’s debt level in 2016 at a nine-year low.

Florida’s debt dropped $1.6 billion last year to its lowest overall level since 2007, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet were told Tuesday.

The state’s Bond Finance Division Director Ben Watkins pointed out the decline returned Florida to its more recent course of reducing the level of red ink, after a one-year increase spawned by major borrowing for road work on Interstate 4.

The $24.1 billion owed by Florida is its lowest level since 2007. Lawmakers were forced to include $2.1 billion in taxpayer money in the state’s $82 billion budget just to service the debt.

The decline has been helped by favorable interest rates, which have prodded the state to refinance some of what it owes over the past six years, saving about $2.5 billion, Watkins told the Cabinet.

About half of the state’s debt stems from bond financing to for school and university construction, with another 40 percent attributed to transportation work.

Stemming the tide of red ink comes even as Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has outlined plans for the state to bond $1.2 billion over 20 years to buy 60,000 acres to ease the impact of water discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

The land, mostly in western Palm Beach County, would be turned into a reservoir that would help cleanse farm-polluted water from the lake, which he said has “poisoned” the waterways of surrounding communities.

Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, haven’t said much about Negron’s initiative, which totals $2.4 billion, including an anticipated federal match.

Scott, though, has been intent on reducing Florida’s debt. Since he took office in 2011, debt has dropped $3.6 billion, from $27.7 billion.

Scott also effectively reversed a long period of borrowing that spiked when Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999 and state borrowing climbed about $10 billion over the next decade.

Florida in 2070: Development will dominate, report warns

South Florida's growth is projected to span south of Lake Okeechobee.

South Florida’s growth is forecast to span area south of Lake Okeechobee.

Florida in 2070 will be a state brimming with almost 34 million residents — 70 percent more than currently — but with many of the same growth problems, a statewide management organization concludes in a report released today.

Balancing development against nature preserves and farmland will be a recurring theme of the next half-century, 1000 Friends of Florida says in its Florida 2070 report.

But the organization maintains that through smart growth management, there is a way to lower the trajectory Florida is on, which puts on course to having one-third of the state developed, up from less than 19 percent during the report’s 2010 baseline year.

If  many residents are already feeling the pressures of crowded roads, neighborhoods and schools, there is certainly more to come, the report shows.

But 1000 Friends argues that by relying on a more compact pattern of development and increasing the state’s protected land holdings, the percentage of Florida under development can be held to 28 percent in 2070.

South Florida, so long home to rapid growth, is projected as slowing in coming years, relative to the rest of the state.

Within South Florida, the most dramatic potential changes in 2070 can be seen in the areas south of Lake Okeechobee, including in Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties, as well as in Lee and Collier counties, the report finds.

Still, land devoted to cities and suburbia in the region should cap at 30 percent of the region — below the state’s 34 percent average, analysts said.

The area of most overwhelming growth in the next half-century? Central Florida.

By 2070, almost half the region from Tampa to Daytona Beach will be devoted to roads, homes, and the other trappings of development, 1,000 Friends forecasts.

Trump cites slumping home ownership rate, but in Florida, that might not be so bad

Florida's home ownership rate is declining. But that's maybe not all bad
Florida’s home ownership rate is declining. But that’s maybe not all bad

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump raised alarms Thursday about the plummeting rate of home ownership while addressing the National Association of Home Builders in Miami Beach, warning it would only get worse under Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Home ownership in the nation is now at 63 percent, the lowest rate in 51 years. Florida’s also was at 65 percent at the end of 2015, it’s lowest level since 1989.

But state economists haven’t been too upset about the decline. In fact, they were more fearful when the rate skyrocketed past 72 percent in 2006.

Lax lending practices meant more people were borrowing and buying — just before the housing crash Florida is still recovering from.

Many of those buying in that era — and swelling the home ownership numbers — quickly became part of the bankruptcies and foreclosures clouding the state’s real estate market since the recession.

Demographics also play a role in the shift. Millennials struggling with college debt and not inclined to value home-buying as much as earlier generations have been slow to enter the market, analysts say.

Still, Florida’s home ownership rate is slightly below its long-term average. And for Trump, the decline is clearly personal — in part.

“Home building is very close to my heart,” Trump told his audience Thursday, pointing out that his father built homes in Queens and Brooklyn. “The regulations are horrible — what’s happening with regulations.”

“This is not what we want…and it will change if I’m elected president,” he said about incompetent leadership as he went after the former secretary of state. “Hillary Clinton wants to tax and regulate our economy to death.”

 

Mixed signals on labor force under ‘jobs governor,’ Rick Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott

State economists are struggling to find meaning in new data sending mixed signals on the percentage of Floridians active in the labor force under the self-described jobs governor, Republican Rick Scott.

While the state’s unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in May, down .7 percent from a year ago, statistics show that the number of residents looking for or securing employment for the first time is trending downward.

The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s latest look at the Florida economy shows the percent of people newly active in the workforce fell in May to 10.5 percent from 12.1 percent a year earlier.

At the same time, the number of Floridians rejoining the workforce after a period when they stopped looking for a job or holding a job rose to 30.7 percent from 28.4 percent, during the same period.

“Currently, it is not clear what this data suggests,” EDR admits. “The increase in the share of re-entrants is generally encouraging, while the decline in new entrants sends mixed signals.”

EDR does suggest, however, that data showing a decline in the number of recent college graduates choosing to enter the workforce may be contributing to the state’s drop in new entries.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall participation rate in the workforce hit 58.9 percent in May. But that’s still well off the pre-recession high of 64 percent from November 2006 to Marco 2007.

Scott jets to England and air show

Gov. Rick Scott heading to London
Gov. Rick Scott heading to London

Gov. Rick Scott is flying to England tonight for the biennial Farnborough International Airshow, where he plans to promote the state to aerospace and aviation companies.

Florida is fourth in the nation in the number of aviation and aerospace employees. Enterprise Florida, the state’s job-recruiting arm, will host the largest pavilion of any participating U.S. state.

Scott last year went to a similar air show in Paris. In another tale of two cities, France and England alternate the mega-shows each year.

Scott plans to be back Wednesday in Florida.

Wall Street bullish on rising property values in Florida

Taxes from real estate transactions are climbing back to recession high.
Taxes from real estate transactions are climbing back to recession high.

While an algae outbreak threatens the Treasure Coast and a spike in sprawling, huge development projects across Florida raises questions about growth management, Wall Street is bullish on rising property values seen across the state.

A new report by Moody’s Investor services concludes most Florida counties “will continue to benefit from robust property value growth, increasing financial stability, and expanding employment opportunities.”

Moody’s rates 31 of Florida’s 67 counties, but those it covers include 82 percent of the state’s population. Palm Beach County is among 11 counties where property values have jumped more than 20 percent since 2012 — after flattening during the recession.

But as LL Cool J once sang, “don’t call it a comeback” or, at least not completely.

Palm Beach has reached between 85 percent and 95 percent of its pre-recession peak assessed value mark, with two-thirds of Florida’s Moody’s rated counties in Florida now at least 75 percent back to its highest level.

Just last week, The Post reported that taxable property values in the county and its cities jumped nearly 10 percent this year over last, exceeding the $150 billion mark for the first time since 2008.

Miami-Dade, Orange and Alachua counties, though, have already reached 100 percent their pre-recession peak, and Sumter County, home to the retirement mecca The Villages and other communities, is at 150 percent of its pre-crash high, Moody’s found.

Now that there’s a Democrat in gov’s office, Scott targets Louisiana

Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal campaigned with Rick Scott in 2014.
Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal campaigned with Rick Scott in 2014.

Now that Louisiana has a Democratic governor, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is targeting it for his latest trade mission.

Scott announced Wednesday that he is heading next week to Louisiana, where a special session of the Legislature began Monday to cover a $600 million budget shortfall.

New Gov. John Bel Edwards is looking to raise the state’s income tax to help cover the budget hole, over push-back from the Republican-run Legislature.

Scott sees that as an opening.

“As Gov. Edwards continues to rally behind tax increases and bad business policies, we stand ready to help Louisiana companies grow and create jobs in Florida,” Scott said.

Scott ally, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, is catching a lot of the blame for the state’s financial woes. While positioning for what turned into a failed presidential run, Jindal pushed heavily for tax breaks and financial incentives for corporations that — combined with falling oil prices — helped drain state reserves and revenue.

Scott says mega-building is generating dollars that help Florida fight environmental problems

Gov. Scott says mega-developments are helping state pay for environmental problems
Gov. Scott says mega-developments are helping state pay for environmental problems

Florida’s building boom, which followed Gov. Rick Scott’s rollback of growth management laws, is alarming many community activists and environmentalists.

But Scott sees the spread of mega-developments, from the Panhandle to the heart of panther habitat in Southwest Florida, as helping the state pay for widespread environmental problems facing the state.

The Indian River Lagoon on the state’s Atlantic shore and Caloosahatchee River on the Gulf of Mexico side have been badly fouled by freshwater runoff from Lake Okeechobee, carrying pollutants from neighborhoods, farms and cities.

At the same time, freshwater springs, concentrated mostly in Central and North Florida, have proved particularly vulnerable to pollutants from nearby development. Such landmark sites as Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and Fanning Springs are choked by nutrients and algae.

Scott, though, said his administration has steered $880 million toward advancing long-stalled Everglades’ projects while backing major efforts for cleaning the Indian River Lagoon and endangered springs.

These initiatives would not be possible without the dollars provided by the building projects that are flourishing in Florida, he said.

“All that’s happened,” Scott said, “because we’ve turned around our economy.”

Palm Beach County’s unincorporated western area is the site of almost 14,000 new homes planned in coming years, spread across four new communities, including Westlake, whose developers want to make it the county’s 39th city.

On what had been timber and farm land in Charlotte County on the Gulf coast, a city whose acreage is bigger than Manhattan is beginning to emerge. In Orange County, 4,000 homes are on their way east of the Econlockhatchee River, long a dividing line between urban and rural Central Florida. Prime Florida panther habitat is targeted for development in eastern Collier County, just southeast of Palm Beach County.

What’s happened in Florida since growth oversight has been reduced?

More here:   http://bit.ly/1VlNqZT

Florida’s building boom has financial and political pay-off for state’s ruling Republicans

Tax collections from real estate transactions are returning to their pre-recession heights in Florida
Tax collections from real estate transactions are returning to their pre-recession heights in Florida. Graphic by Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The spread of mega-developments across Florida five years after Gov. Rick Scott sharply reduced growth management laws is yielding both a financial and political pay-off for ruling Republicans.

The wholesale building boom can be traced in state statistics.

Real estate tax collections, a strong barometer of growth, soared 17 percent last year in Florida to $2.1 billion.

That was the highest level in the state since 2006 when these documentary stamp taxes paid on real estate transactions began toppling from a pre-recession high of $4 billion in 2005, a towering mark propelled upward by two straight years of hurricane rebuilding.

The most building permits in a decade also were issued last year in Florida after five years of growth.

The rising tax receipts not only are proof of a rebounding economy, but also helped fuel a state budget that hit $82 billion this year for the first time. That allowed Scott to make good on his re-election promise to give back $1 billion in tax breaks.

Full story on how reduced regulations are spurring runaway growth:    http://bit.ly/1VlNqZT

Five years after Scott reduced state growth laws, mega-developments are booming

Palm Beach County’s unincorporated western area is the site of almost 14,000 new homes planned in coming years, spread across four new communities, including Westlake, whose developers want to make it the county’s 39th city.

But similar, multi-thousand-acre projects are also in the works this spring across remote stretches of scrub and wetland – virtually in every corner of Florida.

Such mega-projects as Babcock Ranch,Plum Creek, Lake Pickett and Deseret Ranch, are poised to add thousands of houses, millions of feet of commercial space and swell the state’s population through the next decade by converting vast amounts of rural land.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Paulette Burdick, who fought much of the western growth in her county, traces Florida’s boom to Scott’s actions in 2011.

“It just kicked the door open,” Burdick said. “But the impact of all this development is ultimately going to be picked up by the taxpayers. They’re the ones who will have to pay for the needed roads, the schools and improving the bad water we’ll be left with.”

Full story here:   http://bit.ly/1VlNqZT