For the first time in years, moving vans are bringing families into our state at a greater rate than they are moving people out. Florida's unemployment rate continues to creep downward, as more private-sector jobs are created. Both signal that Florida's economy may be turning the proverbial corner and demonstrate that the policies put into place by Gov. Rick Scott, the Cabinet and legislative leaders are slowly, but surely, producing positive results.
However, with nearly 1 million of our fellow Floridians unemployed, there is still more that can and must be done to re-establish Florida as the national leader in job creation and economic prosperity. And the key lies with Florida's businesses. A healthy economy and a stable job market are intrinsically tied to the vibrance of our existing businesses and our ability to attract new business to the state. Policies that support businesses and make Florida the absolute best place in the country to do business will accelerate our economic rebound and put people back to work.
When businesses thrive, our state and its citizens thrive. It is not a novel philosophy, but it is a proven philosophy and one that goes to the heart of Associated Industries of Florida's (AIF) core mission. Since 1920, we have served as the "Voice of Florida Business" in Tallahassee and our nation's capital by representing employers on the issues most important to the business community. We defend the principles of the free-market system and advocate for business-friendly proposals, because we know a robust state economy relies on it.
With the 2012 Legislative session in full swing, Florida's business community and lawmakers have an opportunity to advance policies that will put Florida on track to becoming the place to do business.
One of the greatest challenges facing Florida employers is the growing cost of doing business.
Employers continue to shoulder the burden of increased labor costs that have the potential to grind hiring to a halt or, worse, cause businesses to eliminate jobs. This year, employers will see a major increase in workers’ compensation premiums, and unemployment compensation taxes will more than double without legislative intervention. A legislative fix that closes the drug repackaging loophole in workers' compensation law will help stabilize and drive down premiums. Additionally, AIF plans to work with lawmakers to pass legislation that lessens the unemployment compensation tax increase to a more manageable level so employers can stay afloat and unemployed Floridians can continue to receive the benefits they need.
To help businesses, and ultimately our entire state, Florida needs a competitive and fair tax structure that encourages business growth, draws capital investment and ensures Florida's brick-and-mortar businesses are competing on a level playing field. The recent growth of the online retail industry has exposed a flaw in our tax policies, which allows companies that do not have a physical presence in Florida to sell their products without remitting sales taxes to the state. Similarly, online travel companies currently enjoy a special tax advantage that enables them to charge lower room rates than Florida hotel owners who pay their fair share of taxes and employ thousands of Floridians. Bringing equity to our tax structure and ensuring fairness for everyone in the state and international business community is paramount to the success of our free-market system.
Hurricanes — an ever-present threat to our state — also bring the threat of "hurricane taxes" to every employer and citizen in our state. Should a major hurricane hit our state, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Cat Fund — our state-run insurance companies — will be unable to cover the losses to Florida policyholders. The difference will have to be made up by taxes assessed on all insurance policies. AIF supports legislation that reduces our state's risk and exposure, thereby lessening the potential for unfair hurricane taxes levied on all Florida businesses, organizations and individuals.
While AIF supports honoring Florida's great traditions, we believe we also should look at new opportunities to expand Florida's economy. Destination Resorts combined with better control of unregulated gambling can bring 100,000 jobs for Floridians and immediately inject $6 billion in capital investment into the state. These new sources of annual revenue can be used to support schools, roads and health care and should be thoughtfully considered by our legislators as part of the formula for expanding our economy and creating jobs.
These are just some of the steps we can take now to cultivate an environment prime for business and job growth.
Florida has the opportunity to capitalize on all its strengths — our geography, natural resources and infrastructure — to become the nation's premier location for business. AIF is committed to leading the way there.
Note: This was released as an Op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat on 1/13/11