State CFO Atwater: Florida’s economy in ‘modest’ recovery
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told about 20 members of the JAX Chamber ImpactJAX young professionals group Wednesday that posting state contracts online improves transparency for taxpayers. Photo by Karen Brune Mathis. Purchase this photo
Chelsi Henry, Northeast Florida market manager for state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, with Atwater (right) on Wednesday. Henry also serves as an elected supervisor for the Soil and Water Conservation District Group 5. Photo by Karen Brune Mathis. Purchase this photo
by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater used the term “modest” several times in assessing the state’s economic recovery.
Atwater, a banker by experience, said Wednesday after a JAX Chamber meeting with its ImpactJAX young professionals group that the economy is “modestly” improving and he sees economic indicators “modestly working in a positive trajectory.”
Atwater met with about 20 members of ImpactJAX late Wednesday at the chamber’s Downtown offices.
During the discussion, he announced that he had posted the state’s 23,000 contracts online for public review.
“As treasurer, I’m the one who signs the check,” he said.
“We’re spending your money. Wouldn’t you like to know we’re actually accomplishing what we set out to do?” he asked.
Atwater said almost 60 percent of the $70 billion state budget is not paid to employees. “It’s contracted,” he said.
“Some of these contracts are pretty weak,” he said, not elaborating.
“There are people who are going to be very embarrassed shortly,” he said later in response to a question about bids.
In a news release Wednesday, Atwater announced the launch of FACTS, described as “a comprehensive online tool that offers Floridians greater visibility into how their government is doing business.”
The release said Atwater’s FACTS tool makes state contracting processes transparent through a centralized, statewide contract reporting system.
“The FACTS system reflects my longstanding commitment to my fellow Floridians to make state contracts accessible to the public online,” Atwater said in the release.
“Through FACTS, Floridians can now see at the click of a mouse how their government is deploying their tax dollars. Nearly $50 billion, or approximately 56 percent of the state budget, is spent on contracts and agreements for goods and services,” it said.
“This system will ensure higher levels of efficiency and accountability from our government and elected leaders,” said the release.
“The tool is not simply historical data placed online. It includes contract information that is regularly updated and audited,” it said.
Users can search for state contracts by state agency, vendor, dollar amount, date and commodity or service type provided. Search results are available in a downloadable format as well as in a detailed information page that also lists contract deliverables, according to the release.
The system already includes contract images from the Department of Financial Services and soon will include the five highest dollar amount contracts from each state agency.
The release said all state agency contract images will be available online later this year.
Additionally, it said the department will audit and publish its findings of contract performance to the FACTS system for viewers to determine how well state government establishes and manages contracts.
It said a contract becomes available to the public as soon as a state agency contract manager loads the contract information into the online system. Florida law requires state agencies to input contracts to FACTS within 30 days of execution.
Atwater, a Republican, also is a member of the Florida Cabinet. He oversees the Department of Financial Services and his responsibilities include a broad range of duties.
Also during the wide-ranging discussion Wednesday, Atwater was asked about the ability of college graduates to find jobs in Florida.
Atwater said the state has returned to a positive growth rate and he urged graduates to “choose Florida,” while acknowledging the recession’s effects.
“We’ve never been through this,” he said, adding “nothing like this.”
After his presentation, Atwater said the state’s economy is improving, sales tax revenue is increasing, housing sales are picking up, the average home price is rising and the number of jobs is expanding.
At the same time, he said consumer confidence remains weak.
Atwater also said a survey of businesses found “uncertainty is at the top” of their concerns.
However, the economy’s performance in Florida is better than some other states, he noted. “I would still keep it relative,” he said.
He said job growth in Florida is outperforming some other states.
Atwater also cautioned policymakers to be aware of how their decisions might “suppress” job growth in the state.
The July 13 “Florida: An Economic Overview” from the state Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research said economic growth grew in 2010 and 2011 after declining the previous two years.
The economy grew by 0.9 percent last year.
It also reported that as of May, eight states had a higher unemployment rate than Florida.
Atwater was elected to office in November 2010. A fifth-generation Floridian, he served for a decade in the Florida House and Senate, representing Broward and Palm Beach counties, and was Senate president 2008-10.
His Senate biography shows his great-grandfather was Napoleon B. Broward, who served as governor of Florida from 1905-09.
Atwater attended the University of Florida for his bachelor’s degree in finance and his MBA.
He also was a community banker, spending time with the former Jacksonville-based Barnett Bank.