By Philip Blumel
Should Florida bail out New York? That is the provocative headline in the Wall Street Journal on May 17th. The editorial looked at the way the two states have managed their economy and finances over the last decade. The comparison has some lessons for the term limits movement. From anti-term-limits politicians and lobbyists, one often hears about the value of experience and how term limits lead to a government run by infants, who are led by the hand by seasoned lobbyists and told what to do.
New York, on the other hand, does not have term limits. It has dozens of members elected in 1990s, 1980s, and even as early as the year 1970. New York legislators are full-time. They earn high salaries and are provided with large staffs. There is no shortage of political experience in New York.
On the other hand, Florida has eight-year term limits on its legislature and new members are joining the legislature in large numbers every election cycle, from many different walks of life. They work part-time and require outside employment, as their compensation as a legislator is low. New York started 2010 with a larger population. They had 19.4 million people to Florida’s 18.8 million. But over the last decade from 2010 to 2020, people moved to Florida, more people left New York. Florida’s population is now higher at 21.5 million to New York’s 19.5 million. Clearly millions of Americans are seeing Florida as doing something right.
In spite of this population shift, New York’s budget is much larger than Florida’s and growing at a faster rate. New York spends $177 billion a year, whereas Florida’s budget is expected to be just a little over half that size at $93 billion. So much for lobbyists running the show. Whoever heard of a lobbyist hired to convince legislators to spend less money? These are big numbers. The Wall Street Journal tries to put this in perspective. New York has increased spending by 43 billion since 2010, about 570,000 for each new resident of the state. Florida’s budget has increased by 28 billion while its population has surged. Spending has increased by $10,400 per new resident.
New York has a state income tax at 12.7% while Florida does not have a state income tax at all. Yet New York has a budget deficit while Florida does not. New York’s spending on worker retirement benefits has doubled since 2010 and is six times greater than Florida’s. The rate of job growth in Florida has been about 60% higher than in New York over the last decade. The Wall Street Journal editorial goes on and on with such comparisons, but I think the point’s made. The fact that Florida, which has more term limits top to bottom than any other state, is also one of the best run in the country, certainly in this example versus New York.
Now, we don’t contend that this outperformance by term limit States like Florida is due only to term limits, but we can safely say that an entrenched elite of experienced politicians is no guarantee of good government. In fact, it is often an impediment. The regular introduction of new faces and ideas, the relative independence from lobbyists asking for money, and of course the broader range of experience that Florida enjoys, has served it well.