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Despite Tallahassee's Recovery, Some Groups Still Left Out


The phrase that may best describe the Capital City’s private sector mood nowadays is “cautious optimism”. 

The housing market is slowly improving, there’s an influx of new chain retailers, local small businesses – especially bars – are seeing more customers.  Although Tallahassee has no theme parks and the nearest beach is an half-hour drive away, tourism has become a larger blip on the region’s economic development radar screen.  This sort of growth is only possible if financial institutions are willing to help make it happen, and even in this arena, area bankers like First Commerce Credit Union’s Mary Estes say things are looking up.

“Credit had all but dried up with a lot of the major banks in the country and it affected the local economy as well, so there weren’t a lot of financing options available out there.  But now there are, and with this SBA loan program it’s a great partnership.  We have every reason to be optimistic about where the local economy’s going," she says.

You can tell a lot about what’s really important in any given city by simply looking around its downtown.    Like most downtowns of similar size, there are some bank buildings along with several eating and drinking establishments.  But with the exception of the venerable menswear store, Nic’s Toggery, right up the street, there are virtually no retail outlets in Tallahassee’s downtown.  Instead, nearly as far as the eye can see where stores used to be, there are offices for lawyers and lobbyists, all connected to the big building that looms over everything; the 22-story Florida Capitol.

Governor Rick Scott campaigned successfully on the trifecta of smaller government, fewer regulations, and more jobs, and it's been a manta he's repeated often:

“My agenda’s going to be jobs, jobs, jobs.  It’s going to be reducing the size of government and it’s going to be about reducing regulations that kill jobs.”

Immediately upon taking office in January of 2011, he began doing exactly what he promised and had the enthusiastic support of Republican leaders in the legislature, such as then-House Speaker Dean Cannon.

“A terrible temptation when you’re a part of government is to succumb to the temptation that we in Tallahassee can make all things better through government.," Cannon said at the time.

Cuts to state government programs and employee head-counts weren’t long in coming.  Certainly some of the reductions were driven by the state’s faltering economy and lagging revenues.  But come the cuts did with the bulk taking place in and around the seat of state government.  Since Governor Scott took office, the state workforce has fallen by nearly eight-percent from nearly 127,000 to just under 118,000.  The current state budget eliminated more than 3,000 positions on top of the six thousand that went away last year.  Governor Scott is now promising to cut half-a-billion dollars from next year’s state budget, even as the overall economy slowly improves.  That makes American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Florida Legislative Director Doug Martin almost purple with rage.

“The fact is that state spending is way, way down in all measures; in education, universities, on child welfare and other things, so we need to invest in our services.  We are at critically low staffing levels.”

And, with more state budget cuts, those levels could fall still further.  But state workers have a few things to be happy about.  They did receive a raise this year for the first time in seven years, and they no longer have to look at the job charts the governor’s office had placed in every state agency lobby.  The charts showed how, under Governor Scott’s leadership, Florida’s private sector jobs were growing while public sector jobs were falling.  State workers could literally see their jobs evaporate before their eyes as they came to work each day.  It had such a devastating effect on employee morale that the charts were quietly removed from the lobbies a few months after they appeared.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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