This is the tenth entry in “It’s the Economy, Stupid” a 15-part series analyzing the local economic news in five swing states.
For political junkies this week marked a three-day Super Bowl-like affair. The spectacle came complete with paid, professional line-holders and eager anticipation ahead of daily released audio recordings and transcripts. The excitement was fueled by the Supreme Court’s hearing of the case of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – and so it is to the Sunshine State, that this entry turns.
Back in March 2010 – and immediately after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Pamela Bondi, the Florida Attorney General, filed suit against the law in Federal Court. She argued that the individual mandate in the law which compels individuals to obtain insurance or pay a fine, and the extension of the Medicaid program conflicted with the U.S. Constitution. As the case reached the Supreme Court for this week’s oral arguments, 26 states – including fellow swing states Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado; had joined the suit.
If the Supreme Court strikes down the law in its entirety, then it would surely count as a victory for states’ rights proponents. But politicians in those 26 states should be prepared to devise alternative, state-based solutions to their health insurance market failures. In Florida, there are 3.9 million individuals without health insurance. That is more than one-fifth of the state’s population and significantly higher than the national rate. Alternative or not, when the Court’s decision comes in June, there is likely to be a marked impact on the Presidential election.
President Obama has reason to be hopeful, due to a Quinnipiac University poll that covered three swing states and was released on Wednesday. Although he secures only a plurality of the votes in each state, he leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. This lead is maintained despite Florida voters believing that Romney would do a better job of handling the economy. Still, those same voters are more willing to blame oil companies and oil-exporting nations for recent, high gasoline prices.
As noted in the Tampa Bay Times, support too for Obama may come from the 57% of Floridians who believe that the economy is recovering – even as 60% think that the state is still in a recession. To that analysis, the South Florida Sun Sentinel adds Romney’s falling support among women. He is now confronting a 14-point gap behind Obama. The unpopularity of Gov. Rick Scott is cited too, with a majority of voters giving him an unfavorable rating. To confront that unpopularity, Gov. Scott signed a series of measures designed to boost job creation, on Wednesday.
Gov. Scott approved four bills: HB 7023 which enables him to fire executives at the state’s regional jobs boards, HB 7027 which reforms unemployment compensation, HB 7029 which eliminates various state rules and regulations, and HB 7087, which cuts the corporate income tax and includes various breaks for industries such as fruit and meat packers. While the Tampa Bay Times highlighted the $1 billion in business tax cuts provided for by the bills, the Orlando Sentinel skipped the message of relieving the burden on businesses in favor of one that dealt with waste, fraud, and abuse. The paper applauded Gov. Scott for acting on its earlier investigation, which found questionable practices at the state’s regional jobs boards.
More business-friendly news came in the form of free websites for small businesses. The Orlando Sentinel reported that a partnership between Google, Intuit, and the Governor will give small businesses free website design, domain names, and server hosting for one year. The newspaper notes that while 68% of Floridian small businesses lack websites, the free offering may be more glitz than substance. Businesses would be given a basic, 3-page website that is not capable of handling commercial transactions. After that first year, companies would need to pay more than $500 for the website and a more meaningful e-commerce package.
Businesses may be willing to pay more for that benefit though as consumer confidence fell slightly in March. The Florida Consumer Confidence Index – as tracked by the University of Florida, fell four points to 74. The Tampa Bay Times emphasized the effect of rising gasoline prices as causing the drop in confidence, to the exclusion of the report noting that housing prices have stabilized and that consumers have greater confidence in their personal finances. Still, confidence in the national economic outlook had small declines. The index goes from a low of two to a high of 150, with 100 equal to confidence in the benchmark year of 1966.
If this year is like the last one, then there will be reason for many Floridians to celebrate in two weeks. According to the non-profit Tax Foundation – which has links to conservative groups, Florida celebrated Tax Freedom Day on April 11th in 2011. That came one day before the national average, and denotes the day when the average worker has earned enough to pay his or her federal, state, and local tax obligations. Among its peers, the day came March 31st for New Mexico, April 6th for Ohio, April 8th for Colorado, and April 14th for Pennsylvania. Perhaps more important and long before Gov. Scott approved his latest arguably pro-business measures, the Foundation ranked the state as fifth most favorable climate for businesses in the nation.
Pennsylvania: “Bill would consolidate several loan programs” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 28th
Continuing the theme of reforming the treatment of businesses, a Pennsylvania State Senate panel approved the creation of a Liberty Financing Authority to consolidate the business loan programs currently overseen by several government authorities. The Authority would be governed by a 15-member board, and could guarantee up to half the outstanding principal of loans – not to exceed $1 million.
Colorado: “Drug companies targeting Colo. for trials” The Pueblo Chieftain, March 27th
In more health-related news, four drug companies are recruiting patients for new clinical trials. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and industry association is said to be targeting Colorado for new trials because of its strong health infrastructure for both provision of care and research. As previously discussed, Education & Health Services is the fifth-largest industry in the state.
Ohio: “Senior program funding shifts to taxpayer” The Columbus Dispatch, March 28th
Senior programs in Franklin County will not be cut despite a decline of federal support. The congregate-meal program provides an opportunity for 1,000 seniors to gather together for a meal and socializing. Even as the County can afford to continue to support the program, falling federal funds will likely impact the size of a senior services tax referendum which will be on the ballot next November.
New Mexico: “N.M. May Cut Financial Advisor” Albuquerque Journal, March 28th
Recent GOP rhetoric has centered on the inability of government to pick winners and losers in business investment decisions, but it would appear that New Mexico has had some trouble picking the experts who are supposed to know how to make those decisions. An adviser to the State Investment Council may be terminated after he directed an unauthorized $2.5 million to an Albuquerque company. The individual is from the Santa Fe-based, Sun Mountain Capital – an in-state venture capital firm.
U.S. Supreme Court photograph provided courtesy of DBKing via Wikimedia Commons