In your April edition of Florida Trend magazine, you reported, "The [Florida] Department of Commerce optimistically projects that the total number of visitors to Florida will rebound in 1995 by 5.3%, for a total of 42.8 million."
Visitor forecasts are not generated by the Florida Department of Commerce, but rather by the Florida Economic Estimating Conference, a partnership of economists representing the Governor's Office and the Florida Legislature. This body meets at least twice a year to produce a general economic forecast for the state. Of course, tourism activity is a major part of that forecast, and our staff provides data and advice to the conference on tourism trends and outlook.
The most recent estimating conference was held in February. After considering the continued decreases in auto visitor arrivals and other factors, the estimating conference produced a new state forecast of tourist arrivals for 1995 of 40.2 million, a growth rate of just 0.9% over the final 1994 figures.
I would appreciate it if you would pass along this clarification and correction to your readers. Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Florida Secretary of Commerce
Your article "Markets Hot (And Not)" in the April issue of Florida Trend was an informative piece about the state's economy and future job prospects.
Unfortunately, it included a chart from the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security indicating the enormous growth of jobs for physical therapists and physical-therapist assistants, and this appears to be inconsistent with a March 17 article in the Wall Street Journal. In that article, entitled "Numb and Number," it is reported that "jobs for physical therapists dropped 7.8%." The state labor department's charts indicate large growth, from 1992 through 2005, in the number of jobs for physical therapists (94.8%) and for physical-therapy assistants (103%). Is the Sunshine State an exception to national trends?
With the growth in managed care, Florida will follow the declining national trend. The state labor department's statistics appear inflated at best, and we would hope that Florida Trend doesn't view their statistics as the standard.
Erik H. Kirk
Florida Physical Therapy Association
Education & The Lottery
An intriguing column in your March edition, by a University of Florida economist, blended a bit of Lottery bashing with a call for higher, or at least broader, taxes in Florida. Should we pause for a reality check here?
The author, Mr. Tom Fullerton, may be an economist, but he's no historian. He writes that "the state Lottery was hailed as the great cure-all for anything and everything to do with Florida public education funding.
That is revisionist history taken to the extreme. The Lottery was not hailed as any "great cure-all." It was opposed by every major newspaper, every statewide elected official and the Legislature and vilified as a plague on modern civilization. Check the 1986 Florida Trend archives.
As an educator, I admire the courage of one who stands up in these tight-fisted times of "no new taxes." But it may be naive to think that new revenue would not go to build new prisons, hire police or provide health care for the poor.
The writer concludes that stable or slow-growing Lottery sales are what's wrong with education funding in Florida. And he blames legislators for "arguing that the Lottery was sufficient to support growth in education."
I must disagree on both counts. The Lottery is a business selling low-cost entertainment and capturing at least 38 cents of each dollar for education. It was never sold as a "cure-all" or free ride for state education funding.
I know and work with dozens of state legislators, and I have yet to hear one of them argue that our public schools are well provided for because of the Lottery.
The Lottery operation captures about $850 million in voluntary revenue each year for schools. That would equate to new taxes of about $212.50 per household for Florida's four million households.
My view is that Lottery players deserve a thanks once in a while for their voluntary contribution. Lottery money will never provide more than a small percentage of what is needed to build our future by educating Florida's greatest natural resource - its children.
Secretary, Florida Lottery
The following is Mr. Fullerton's reply to Marcia Mann's letter:
In response to Dr. Mann's letter, several points should be raised. First, recent Florida budget history reveals a disturbing fact regarding Lottery public finance: it has not, as its supporters claim, been used to augment education funding. Instead, Lottery proceeds earmarked for education have merely replaced other revenue sources.
As has been pointed out on numerous occasions by Dr. Mann's Tallahassee colleague, Education Secretary Frank Brogan, education's share of General Revenue spending is currently 49%. Prior to the Lottery, education's share of General Revenue spending in Florida was 60%.
Second, in the event that sales taxes were broadened to include services, the revenues would not necessarily be earmarked for education or any other special budget category. Sales taxes collected on services would not be user fees. They would therefore be a part of the General Revenue Fund where they could be put to use supporting any area in which a demand for public service provision exists.
Third, although Lottery public finance has historically been associated with third-world nations where record keeping is an art and tax evasion a national sport, there is a demand for Lottery "entertainment" in Florida. It is here to stay, but as Dr. Mann admits, it will never provide more than a small percentage of overall education funding.
Unfortunately for the Education Trust Fund, recent data from the Florida revenue estimating conference indicates that the $850 million figure cited by Dr. Mann will not be met this fiscal year, or next, and is expected to decline in both real and nominal terms in subsequent fiscal periods. This risk was brought to bear in a very real manner last December when Lottery revenue shortfalls led to budget cutbacks for the State University System.
Fourth, at best, the state Lottery represents voluntary taxation. At worst, its regressive nature makes it a questionable tool for public finance. Its inherent instability also makes it an unreliable source of funding for the educational system of the fourth largest state in the nation, especially during a period when Florida school enrollments are skyrocketing.
Fifth, service sector employment is the wave of the future for the vast majority of Floridians entering the labor force. Data from the Department of Labor and Employment Security confirms this every single month of the year.
The only means for adequately preparing Florida labor market participants for this reality is enhanced education and skills training. Earmarked Lottery proceeds to the Education Trust Fund will not do the job. Broadening the sales tax to include the most rapidly growing segment of the Florida economy would definitely help.
Tom Fullerton, Jr.
Senior Economist, Bureau of Economic and Business Research
University of Florida
Housing In Sumter County
Sumter County, which is included in the North Central region of Florida Trend's 1995 Economic Yearbook (April '95) is one of the faster-growing counties in the state with 16% to 20% growth, according to the map in the "Markets Hot (And Not)" article. We appreciate recognition of the fact that Sumter is no longer the sleepy, laid-back, rural county with little activity. Plenty is happening here.
Some of the recent developments are mentioned in John Dunn's story on the North Central region, under the title "Industrial Strength," such as the huge new federal correctional complex, which will be one of the largest in the country when completed. One project that isn't covered is the residential housing development by the Villages of Lake and Sumter, that is having an impact on our population and housing-starts statistics. During the past year, more than 800 homes in this community have been sold. The developer anticipates building 600 to 800 homes per year for 20 years in this area.
It seems obvious that an error was made in the housing-starts table in Dunn's article. It shows that 457 houses were permitted in 1993 and 675 in 1994, for a 50.7% change during the 1989-94 period. Yet under projections, only 164 housing starts are listed for 1999 and 169 for 2004. There are other developments taking place in addition to The Villages, so it appears the wrong numbers found their way into this chart. We would appreciate having this checked and corrected with more realistic numbers.
Charles D. Lewis
Sumter County Development Council
Regarding your March 1995 story, "Roadblock": The Department of Transportation is in the midst of widening SRD 686 (East Bay Drive, Largo, Pinellas County). This road and SRD 688 (Ulmerton Road) are the two main roads going between I-275 and the beaches. If the DOT had looked at the surveys they have made, they would have discovered that 688 outnumbers 686 in the traffic count. Our tax money could have been spent more wisely.
I'd like to thank the folks in Stuart for giving "Florida Main Street" some of the credit for their downtown revival.
I'm sometimes asked to name "the most successful" and the "failures" from among the cities that participate in the Florida Main Street Program. I resist those labels for two reasons. First, Main Street goals are established by each community and they determine their progress toward those goals; and secondly, "Main Street" is a process, not a project with a due date.
Of the three cities mentioned in your article, clearly Stuart Main Street is recognized as successful. It has helped that community dramatically revitalize their downtown.
While Key West does not now have a fully operational Main Street Program, it has used its participation in Florida Main Street to address important community issues. I expect that the planning and redevelopment projects and the grassroots capacity-building undertaken by the local Main Street group will continue to benefit that city.
Fort Pierce Main Street is an integral part of that community's master-planning efforts with a long list of accomplishments. Their "Friday Fest" is a nationally recognized event. The group and its board member, Gene Sereg, received statewide recognition last year when he was presented one of the inaugural "Secretary of State's Florida Main Street Awards."
Florida Main Street Coordinator
Contrary to Editor Berry's column ["Sacrifice," FT, March 1995], sometimes complex problems do in fact require simple solutions; particularly when those solutions are grounded in basic American values like private ownership of property and fairness.
The property rights amendment being proposed by Representatives Pruitt and Harris and Senators Williams and Grant is not about any one company or class of individuals but about a free and fair society.
The Tax Cap Committee, with financial support from more than 12,000 individuals and businesses across the state, is the primary proponent of the property rights amendment. Last year, over 800,000 Floridians signed our petition to place a similar property rights initiative on the ballot. And according to polls, it would have passed with more than 75% of the vote if it had not been removed from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court.
The reason we have garnered such strong, broad-based support is that most Floridians understand that the right to own private property is one of the most fundamental tenets of a free society. They also understand that although government may take land for the common good, it is only fair that the public beneficiary pay for it.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 10, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution require government to compensate owners when it takes their property for public use. The proposed property rights amendment simply extends this most basic guarantee to regulatory takings, where private property is devalued by government action for the public good.
Before environmental regulations and zoning became popular, governments in the United States routinely paid owners of homes, farms, businesses and vacant land when their property was needed for schools, roads, parks and other public purposes. More recently, government has used its regulatory powers to restrict the use of private property without compensating the owners for losses in property values. There is no constitutional justification for such extraordinary power of government.
The property rights amendment will only give property owners the same protection for loss in value when their property is restricted by zoning or other regulations as they already have when their property is taken for a road or other public benefit.
Florida voters are environmentally conscious and are willing to pay to maintain our quality of life. They have passed over 90% of bond issues needed to purchase environmentally sensitive land. And yes, Mr. Editor, we are all in a swivel to cut government spending - but not at the cost of a free and fair society. Let's stop government from acting like thieves in the night by making it include the loss in value to private property owners as part of the real costs when it considers any new land-use or environmental regulation.
Tax Cap Committee