We’re about to talk about census data. Stop. Don’t click on another link or start to doze. We promise it will be interesting. OK, then, here it goes:
In mid-December, the Census Bureau released revised data (through June 30, 2015) showing Florida is still growing at a rapid pace. The Sunshine State grew faster than any of its neighbors (including Georgia), grew faster than California and grew faster in fact than any state except Texas.
The Lone Star State gained more people overall in the last year, 490,000 to Florida’s 366,000. However, from a percentage standpoint, Florida edged out the narrowest of victories: 1.84 percent to 1.82 percent.
We recognize that raw population numbers and percentage population gains may seem like they have little value besides bragging, “My city or state is bigger than your city or state.” But what if we told you money was involved? We’re talking big bucks. Got your attention now? Good. Let’s dig a little deeper.
The decennial census, last taken in 2010, is the baseline upon which estimates such as the one released in December build, and is the gold standard, quite literally, for population data in the U.S. Significant funding decisions by the federal government are based on this data wielding a tremendous impact on Florida businesses and residents.
It’s About the Money
While the 2010 census was underway, the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution conducted an in-depth study on how the information would be used in federal funding. The study found that roughly half a trillion dollars at that time relied on this information to apportion the money to various states and communities. While that specific number has aged somewhat, the portion of the federal budget dependent on the data remains roughly the same today.
Medicaid by far is the biggest program relying on the census, accounting for more than $250 billion annually at the time the report was published. That’s huge for Florida, which in 2014 ranked fifth nationally in total Medicaid spending at about $20.4 billion. Roughly 60 percent of Medicaid funding comes from the federal government (the state pays the rest), meaning census data accounted for more than $12 billion coming to Florida from Washington for a single program.
The money doesn’t stop there. Federal highway funding, food stamps, school lunch and breakfast funding, housing assistance and more are based in part on the information. In the federal fiscal year just ended, Florida received more than $143.8 billion from the U.S. government, also fifth nationally, with somewhere around half being based at least in part on census information.
According to the government website www.usaspending.gov, federal spending impacts all parts of the state: $17 billion to South Florida in fiscal year 2015, $8 billion to Tampa-St. Petersburg, $3.7 billion to Greater Orlando and $2.8 billion to Jacksonville. Again, a significant portion of that money is based on formulas determined by the census.
Surely, money like that has kept you with us, because it’s not all about financial goodies from Uncle Sam. Businesses enjoy direct benefits from the Census Bureau’s work as well. Go to the bureau’s website, and there is a page devoted to showing businesses how its data can be used to compare their performance to those of their competitors.
Now we get to the part where we often lose all but the wonkiest of political wonks, but stay with us to the finish. It’s important, and we promise to make it quick.
The Politics of the Census
The Florida Legislature (like others around the country) uses census data to determine the legislative districts for the state’s U.S. representatives, state representatives and state senators. There has been a lot of controversy over these of late, as lawsuits have forced the Legislature to attempt redrawing the U.S. House and Florida Senate districts.
In early December, the Florida Supreme Court gave its final approval to a court-drawn map for Florida’s congressional district. The new map turns two Republican districts into likely Democratic districts and a Democratic district into a likely Republican one. A number of political observers predict the Democrats will enjoy a small net gain from the new map, reducing the GOP’s advantage in the state delegation from 17-10 to, perhaps, 15-12.
At least one of the affected congressmen, Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, has decided not to seek re-election and instead is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio (R). Another Republican congressman, Daniel Webster of Orlando, reportedly is considering running in a different, more GOP-friendly district. Meantime, Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham (daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham), has yet to say whether she will seek a different office now that her Tallahassee-based district is distinctly more Republican. As of Jan. 1, she was still sending fundraising emails as though she were running for re-election.
Right before New Year’s Day, a circuit court judge approved a State Senate map that also may be favorable to Democrats. Republicans currently enjoy a 26-14 edge in the Senate, but the Tampa Bay Times reported on Dec. 31 that a political analyst’s review of the map indicated 21 of the 40 districts under the new map went for President Obama in 2012.
While no one at this point believes the remap means Democrats would take control of the state senate next election, many think it means they could pick up some seats. That has Senate Republicans concerned enough they may sue to challenge the map. No final decision has been made.
So, what do you think about all this? Is it Mister Census now?