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Florida CFO Jeff Atwater said businesses are responsible for the state's recovering economy. Atwater is running for re-election against Democrat William Rankin.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 17, 201412:00 PM EST

CFO Jeff Atwater says private sector drove state's recovery

by: Carole Hawkins

When other states raised taxes, Florida cut its spending.

That’s the reason it enjoys a recovering economy today, said Jeff Atwater, the state’s Chief Financial Officer.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, Atwater said business owners drive growth, not governments.

“The success is because of you,” he said. “There is not an original, creative, innovative thought taking place in any state capital. It happens in marketplaces.”

At the bottom of the recession, Florida’s revenue dropped by $6 billion, down to $21 billion, Atwater said.

Population growth went from 365,000 new residents in 2006 to 20,000 in 2009.

The state median price of a home tumbled from $265,000 to $119,000.

Peer states New York, Illinois, California and New Jersey reacted to their budget deficits by raising taxes.

Florida filled its budget hole with spending cuts instead. It would go on to cut the manufacturing sales tax and pay down $4 billion in debt, Atwater said.

“We chose a different route because it was our sense that the fastest way back, the enduring way back would be to put money in the hands of the marketplace,” said Atwater, who is being challenged by Democrat William Rankin in November.

By 2012, state revenues were back up to $26.5 billion, he said. Population growth today has climbed to 260,000 per year and the state median home price is $180,000.

In Jacksonville, it’s $185,000. Permit pulls are tracking far better in Jacksonville than the state average, Atwater said.

“Through all of this, Northeast Florida really has been good fortune in Florida,” he said. “There’s a sense of culture and a sense of community and a sense of strength and a sense of optimism that you all have persevered with and given to the rest of us. So, thank you.”

Asked how much the state

was looking at the aging workforce and affordable housing,

and whether the state would restore more of the Sadowski Trust fund money to affordable housing, Atwater called the issue huge.

“It’s not just in housing,” he said. “There are very few that are prepared for retirement in any fashion. At some point we need to honor that trust fund, or it’s going to come out of another pocket.”

Asked to reflect about fiscal policy outside his own state, Atwater said, he worries more about things happening in Washington than in Tallahassee.

“People ask me, how are the books,” he said. “If governments would focus on the quality of markets, the books will take care of themselves.”

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