Can Florida survive Rick Scott? (Part one)

Two years ago, Rick Scott used his personal wealth literally to purchase Florida’s top elected office, spending more than $60 million of his own money to win election as governor. Since then, he has distinguished himself as one of the least popular governors in modern U.S. history (let alone Florida history). This is the first in a series of analyses taking a hard look at his impact on the State of Florida.

When Florida Gov. Rick Scott was campaigning for office, he promised to make Florida “the No. 1 state (in the country) for doing business.” Unlike his campaign promise to create 700,000 new jobs in Florida within seven years, the governor has continued since his election to promise to make Florida the No. 1 state for doing business.

Since 2007, CNBC has been publishing an exhaustive survey titled, “America’s Top States for Business.” Every state is ranked numerically in several categories: Cost of doing business (tax burden, utility costs, wages and rental costs for office and industrial space); workforce (education level and availability of workers, union membership and worker training programs); quality of life (local attractions, crime rate, health care and air/water quality); economy (basic indicators of economic health and growth, such as unemployment, budget deficits, etc.); transportation & infrastructure (quality/quantity of roads, air travel, shipping); technology & innovation (state support of innovation, patents granted to residents, availability of broadband services and receipt of federal health and science research grants); education (test scores, class size and state spending on K-12, plus number of higher-education institutions); business friendliness (the extent of the legal and regulatory frameworks); access to capital (presence and extent of venture capital); and cost of living (housing, food, energy, consumer goods).

While the survey is a qualitative assessment, it is tempered by the reality that nothing occurs in a vacuum — all of the states are working to improve the various areas that are measured, so an improvement in a particular area in one year might not translate to an increase in the ranking for that category if many other states improved even more. Of course, seeing Florida achieve improvement in those categories is the task Scott took on when he promised to make Florida the No. 1 state for business — beating out the questing efforts of all other states with (ostensibly) the same goal. And he has failed.

The latest CNBC rankings, released on July 10, place Florida squarely in the “mediocrity” strata at No. 29. That was a sharp decline from our No. 18 ranking in 2011. Our best ranking came in Charlie Crist’s first year as governor, when we broke the top 10 at No. 8. Since then, it has been a steady slide downward: No. 17 in 2008; No. 28 in 2009 and 2010. And the only reason for the reprieve in the rankings in 2011 was improvement — relative to the other states — in transportation infrastructure, access to capital and cost of living.

Interestingly, the rankings reveal some of Florida’s strengths compared to other states. For example, the state ranked No. 3 for workforce. It has always been ranked in the top three for that category except for the first year — 2007 — when it was ranked No. 11. Yet, many of Scott’s policies are based on his assertion that our workforce is not suitable for prospective employers — something clearly not supported by the rankings.

Scott also frequently has claimed that the state has been unfriendly to business, and he has vowed to change that by slashing regulatory red tape. However, in the six years of the CNBC rankings, Florida had its best years for “business friendliness” in 2007 and 2008, when it was ranked No. 16. Under Scott’s administration, the rankings have dropped — to No. 26 last year and No. 27 this year.

He slashed $1.35 billion from public education during his first year in office. After a statewide outcry, he restored about $1 billion of that this year. But the damage was done: Our ranking for education dropped from 35 in 2011 to 42 in 2012. Interestingly, Utah ranked below us at No. 45 in education, but it jumped to the No. 2 spot in the overall rankings, so perhaps an uneducated populace is not that much of a deterrent to prospective employers.

Despite all of his bluster and dissembling, and disdain for “federal numbers” (his characterization of any statistics that point to Florida’s decline rather than her Scott-induced ascendancy), Scott has made no progress on his promise to make Florida the No. 1 state for doing business.