By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida cities and counties would get letter grades for economic and non-economic factors, under a bill that drew mostly bipartisan support Tuesday from the House Appropriations Committee.
Another measure approved by the committee would ask voters in November to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the state chief financial officer to annually provide to residents comparisons of their communities with others in Florida.
Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican sponsoring both proposals (HB 7069 and HJR 7061) said the intent is to allow residents to easily compare economic and non-economic factors of their communities and to see how elected officials may be doing.
“It’s an easy way for people to compare how your county is doing to another county,” Ingoglia said. “The metric should be the same. We’re giving the CFO’s office a bunch of latitude to try to figure how to make it as comparable as possible.”
Under the bill, cities and counties would receive grades of A to D. An F grade would be imposed on counties and municipalities that fail to comply with the reporting requirements.
The bill also would feature per-capita spending, government employee salaries, median incomes of residents, school grades and local crime rates.
Comparisons would also include unemployment rates, percentages of budgets spent on salaries and government revenue per resident.
Ingoglia said the grades, which would be based on the five prior years, shouldn’t impact bond underwriting.
He indicated he supported the proposed constitutional amendment on the CFO sending out comparisons because it is tougher to change the Constitution than amending state laws or altering policies enacted by the CFO’s office.
“We think that this is important that residents know exactly how much cities and counties are spending. How much debt they’re in. Where they are in comparison to other counties and municipalities,” Ingoglia said. “General law can be very easily repealed.”
Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, wondered if communities could face low grades for having incurred debt to provide a higher quality of life and compared the grading proposal to the “failed” letter grades the state gives schools.
The local-government grading proposal also drew opposition from the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties.
“If you have a city that doesn’t have a lot of residents, they’re heavily tourists or a college town, you’re going to have fewer residents though your budget might be quite high,” said Laura Youmans, legislative counsel for the Florida Association of Counties. “That budget is going to serve the industry and businesses and the visitors there, so that would skew your numbers and make that city look worse and make cities that may not be doing as well better by comparison.”
A similar Senate proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1502) has cleared two committees and awaits a hearing before the Rules Committee.
The Senate version of the local review bill (SB 1512), which doesn’t feature the report card grading in the House bill, has been approved by a single committee.