By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Happy Old Year, Florida.
This moment on the calendar provides us with not only an opportunity for personal reflection, but as businesses and governments mull over previous year’s numbers, it also offers the chance to assess our collective condition.
After seemingly endless gloomy New Year’s reports, particularly here in Florida, 2012 seems to be offering something completely different: reason for optimism.
No less an authority than Atlas Van Lines reports that Florida’s most important industry – interstate immigration – grew in 2011. It’s the first time since 2006 that more people moved into the Sunshine State than moved out. And the number of outbound moves was the lowest in a decade. Either things are improving, or Floridians have become too poor to move.
The possible impact of this turnaround cannot be overstated. In-migration accounts for 80 percent of Florida’s population growth – and that’s despite serious declines over the past four years. In 2004, in-migration was 208,857. It dropped to 118,914 in 2oo5 and an anemic 16,195 in 2006. And then, in 2007, the unthinkable happened. For the first time since Julia Tuttle supposedly sent Henry Flagler some oranges in the middle of a brutal winter and convinced him to extend his railroad to South Florida, more people left the Sunshine State than moved into it.
The out-migration pattern was accompanied by tumbling real estate prices. Governments had to revise budgets downward and school districts had to reduce staffing after facing rare declines in student populations.
To understand the economic effect of going from in-migration of 200,000 to net out-migration, consider a report titled “Retirement Migration and Interstate Income Transfers” in the journal The Gerontologist. That report estimated that, “the total interstate redistribution of income due to elderly migration over 1975–80 is estimated at about $15.2 billion. In the New York-Florida migration exchange alone, Florida gained over 1 billion dollars in income and expenditures at the expense of New York state.”
One billion dollars. And that’s just from elderly in-migration.
The news from Atlas is definitely good for Florida.
On top of that, bankruptcies are down 12 percent nationally and 16 percent in Florida. That’s the first drop in six years.
The Sun Sentinel’s Marcia Heroux Pounds warns that the bankruptcy drop in South Florida may be deceiving because investigations into possibly fraudulent foreclosure proceedings have created logjams in courts. And many people can’t afford to file bankruptcy cases because Florida has some of the most expensive legal fees in the country.
But come on. After half a decade of being hammered with bankruptcy filings, we’ll take whatever good news we can cling to.
It’s the first week of the year. We’ll revel in the fact that a Senate leader, Don Gaetz, is actually pushing to codify, rather than cut, public records access.
For years, lawmakers have hammered away at Florida’s wide-reaching open government laws by trying to pass exemptions from public records law for all kinds of reasons. Legislators have tried — and sometimes succeeded — in passing exemptions for city utility records, complaints against doctors, drivers’ license and vehicle information, rabies vaccination records and economic development proceedings.
To give you an idea of the level of attack that public records law has been under, Timothy O’Rourke, the head of the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators, said in a recent letter that during his tenure the organization has fought 138 proposed exemptions.
Now we have Gaetz, who will become Senate president in November, pushing a bill that would specifically proclaim all communications in a government transition (even those generated by the government-to-be before it is sworn into office) a public record. The bill has the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration was criticized for having emails deleted and lost during its transition to power last year.
That’s right up there with the moving vans turning around.
Hey, this is Florida. Hope doesn’t have to wait for spring.