TAMPA, Florida — Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who has made his handling of the state's economy the main thrust of his re-election campaign — got more to boast about on Friday.
The state's unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent in April — putting Florida below the national average for the second straight month. National statistics showed that Florida had the third largest jump in jobs in the nation behind Texas and New York.
Scott touted the numbers at a stop at a Tampa manufacturing firm and used it to argue that his push for tax cuts and other moves have helped the state recover from the Great Recession.
"This is proof that our plan of lower taxes and less regulation and having a pro-business attitude...is working in our great state," Scott said.
The new unemployment rate — which is a drop of 0.3 percent from the previous month — is the lowest it has been since September 2008. There are now an estimated 680,000 Floridians out of work.
Nationwide, employers added 165,000 jobs in April, and the unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.5 percent.
Scott intended to bask in the news during his visit to Heat Pipe Technology, a company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by famed investor Warren Buffett.
But instead, he was forced to answer questions about his decision to reject a proposed deal with Internet retailer Amazon.
The Associated Press first reported on Thursday that the governor turned down a deal that would have led to the construction of at least one Amazon warehouse in the state and brought hundreds, potentially thousands, of jobs with it.
Amazon's arrival in the state, however, would have meant that Floridians would have to pay sales tax on Internet purchases made through the company.
Amazon wanted to defer collecting the state's 6 percent sales tax until next February or when its warehouse was open and occupied. The Seattle-based retailer has reached similar arrangements in several other states across the country.
But a decision to reach a deal with Amazon could have opened up Scott to criticism during his re-election year that he was in favor of taxing Internet sales.
"My job is to make sure I do the right thing for taxpayers of this state," Scott said. "Based on the opportunity I had at the time it didn't make sense. I haven't seen something I think is good for Florida taxpayers."
Scott campaigned in 2010 on his "7-7-7" plan which called for massive tax cuts as part of seven steps to revive Florida's economy over a seven year period.
The Republican governor has been unable, however, to get the Legislature to enact the large tax cuts he wanted since he took office. Meanwhile, his poll numbers since 2011 have steadfastly shown that a majority of Floridians do not approve of the job he has been doing.
Scott on Friday signed into law a bill that exempts manufacturers from having to pay state sales taxes on equipment purchases for three years. The tax break starts in April 2014 and runs until April 2017, and it is expected to save manufacturers more than $100 million a year.
The legislation (HB 7007) was one of Scott's top priorities during the legislative session which ended earlier this month.
But Florida legislators also included in the bill measures to increase the oversight of financial incentives used to lure companies to the state. Critics have raised questions about the use of incentives, especially in light of some companies receiving money and then going out of business.
The new law also creates a new nonprofit corporation to oversee money awarded to the state from lawsuits connected to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
There remain legal questions about the bill because it did not pass by a supermajority in the Florida House.
Florida's Constitution states that normally any bill that affects local taxes must pass by a two-thirds vote.
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