The quote: “The years of 2009-2013 were not a fun time for any of us…A total of 33%, $142 million was lost from the public coffers…Budgets were cut an average of 30%. Some departments, like the parks department, took a 50% cut in its budget….No it wasn’t a good time for Pinellas County government…” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard, 2-12-2015.
The Truths: $191.4 million ADDED to “public coffers”; Government revenue at near record levels for 2015; It was a GREAT time for Pinellas county government!
Oh woe is the poor, trodden-upon Pinellas County government! If we are to believe the tales told by Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard, the County suffered a horrible financial crisis from 2009-2014. About a month ago at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, Mark Woodard offered a melodramatic account of the suffering of the Pinellas County Government from 2009-2013. He was lamenting how property values were falling, effecting the total amount of property tax revenues that the Pinellas county Government collected. He described departments suffering budget cuts, a loss from “public coffers” of $142 million in property tax revenues and layoffs of government workers. Of course, he did not mention that the $142 million that was not given to the government through taxes stayed in the pockets of Pinellas County property owners. He also hid many other important facts of just how good the county government is doing financially.
The Sunbeam Times has analyzed the revenue and spending patterns of Pinellas County government since 2002 to determine the actual amounts of money the Pinellas County government has collected and spent from 2002-2013. The analysis was based on publicly available Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR’s) available online*. The actual numbers tells a very different story than that told by Administrator Woodard. Woodard offered this to the Suncoast Tiger bay audience:
“The years of 2009-2013 were not a fun time for any of us…A total of 33%, $142 million was lost from the public coffers…Budgets were cut an average of 30%. Some departments, like the parks department, took a 50% cut in its budget….No it wasn’t a good time for Pinellas County government…” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard, 2-12-2015. (Beginning at about the six minute mark on the video).
Based on the data, Mark Woodard’s claims are rated as “Under a Rock” by the Sunbeam Times Truth Check. While Woodard complains about a loss of $142 million lost from “public coffers”, he is referring only to the amount of property tax revenue not collected. However, the fact is that between 2009 and 2013, the amount of revenue taken in by the Pinellas government barely went down at all. The average “cut” in revenue each year was between 3-7% less each year. That is because while revenue from property taxes may have fallen, other revenue was increased. That includes from “business type activities” and other taxes have increased since 2009 to make up the difference. A review of pages 140 and 141 of the 2013 CAFR shows increases in the following revenues (annually) since 2009.
Annual revenues to Pinellas Government 2009-2013 (In millions)
|General Government Charges||$79.4 (million)||$86.0|
|“Other” Government Charges||$15.9||$21.7|
|TOTAL Revenue^ from Fees and “non-tax”||$529.8 million||$558.9 Million|
|(^Total Revenue does not add up from selected data included on this chart – see 2013 CAFR for full detail)|
More importantly, total annual revenues continue to outpace total spending by the county. In fact, the county has had annual surpluses in revenue of $24 and 56 million per year from 2009-13. This is a total of $191.4 million extra ADDED to the “public coffers” (as reserves) from 2009-2013. The data shows that in 2009 the total revenue was $1.1 billion and in 2013 it was $1.06 billion. Only a 25 year government bureaucrat and his “progressive” team could see that as a crisis. Further, in 2014 the total budgeted tax revenue was $1.15 billion (surpassing 2009 levels) and in 2015 it is budgeted at $1.23 billion. Thus, the amount of 2015 revenues is already nearly back at record levels (2007) for the county during the artificial property value boom that allowed the governments to take more property tax money than they should.
So, far from losing $142 million from “the public coffers”, the County actually added $191.4 million to the public coffers from 2009-2013. More analysis on years from 2013 onwards will be presented later.
Mark Woodard wants to tell a story of a county government devastated from losing money. His solution to this is “revenue enhancements”. When asked if he can keep revenue increases (taxes) tied only to the rate of inflation and population change, he said that he anticipates that “revenue enhancements” will be needed. That means tax hikes. While he acknowledges a “degradation in our level of service”, as opposed to a tax hike, he doesn’t acknowledge that the same amount of service (or better) can be provided by lower and more responsible spending by our county government. That could be done by modifying the excessive pay and benefits received by government workers to levels that are consistent with those of the citizens who actually pay for the government as well as ending unnecessary programs and stopping waste.
Mark Woodard is engaging in the same type of deceptive shadow boxing done by so many government officials in our county. He complains about a loss of property tax revenue while ignoring growth in overall revenue and a surplus amount of revenue to the government overall. He revealed his true colors as well. It turns out he is the husband of very liberal former mayor Pam Iorio and he too is just a liberal. He seeks a big government that takes money from the pockets of average tax payers to make government grow to serve him and his friends. He confirmed this by closing his presentation in this way: “We will put the ‘Progressive’ back into Pinellas County”. Citizens are left wondering, hasn’t this county been under the “Progressive” umbrellas for more than a decade? The answer is yes. How is the progressive agenda working for average citizens? Just look at your pocket books and job opportunities for the answer.
*It should be noted that the data for 2002 and 2003 are in earlier formats that are not as clearly delineated as more recent CAFR’s thus may not fully reflect all financial activity.