In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses the work to be done to come up with a budget agreement during the final week of the 2014 Florida Legislative Session.
Unlike the federal government, the state must have a balanced budget. According to Harper, one indicator of a healthier state economy since the Recession is that Florida no longer has to dip into its reserves to pay the state’s debt service. “We’re now back down to the level where the state is actively contributing to reserves,” he says.
As for the budget process, negotiations will kick into high gear heading into the weekend, when the last of the so-called “bump” issues will be resolved by Florida Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. The deadline for final agreement is Tuesday, when the budget must be printed ahead of a required three-day cooling off period. The final vote must take place by Friday, May 2 in before the session is adjourned.
Locally, CareerSource Escarosa is joining with Pensacola State College and SkillsUSA for the “World of Possibilities” Job Fair Monday from 2-5pm at the Pensacola Bay Center. Although, the state is not where it was in terms of job growth before the Recession, Harper says Florida’s job market is on an upswing. “If you look locally, Pensacola is now at the jobs level where it was ten years ago, before Hurricane Ivan,” he says noting an increase of about 7,000 jobs in the Pensacola Metro Area from the trough hit at the end of 2009. The job growth in western Panhandle is a little faster than the national rate, but not as fast as the rest of Florida.
On a federal level, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have announced the launch of a new Veterans Employment Center, to connect veterans and service members with employers, and to help translate military skills into the civilian workforce. The new online resource is the first interagency tool to bring a wealth of public and private job opportunities, a resume-builder, military skills translator and detailed career and training resources together in one place.
Harper says it’s another effort to reach out to the nation’s veterans, adding that the Legislature recently passed the Florida GI Bill, which provides educational and job opportunities for military and veterans in the state.
Looking at the housing market, sales of new single-family homes dropped sharply last month as severe winter weather and higher mortgage rates continued to slow the housing recovery. Census Bureau says new home sales fell 14.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000, down from February's revised pace of 449,000.
Harper says the housing market is much better in Florida, which is still in growth mode in terms of housing starts. The two-county area of Escambia and Santa Rosa hit bottom in 2009, at that time recording about 55 starts per month. In the first couple of months of 2014, the area has been reporting about 135 starts per month. “To get to a reasonable, stable level representative of a healthy economy, we need to be at about 200 a month,” says Harper.
Dr. Rick Harper is currently serving as Senior Economic Policy Advisor to the Florida Senate. He'll return to his full-time job as Director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Opportunity and Engagement after Florida’s 2014 Legislative Session closes on May 2.