Florida business, labor leaders praise Obama jobs plan
WASHINGTON — In job-starved Florida, President Barack Obama's nationally televised address to Congress sparked renewed hope on Friday that a burst of federal spending and tax incentives would prompt companies to begin hiring again.
Business leaders welcomed Obama's proposal to extend and expand a cut in payroll taxes and to dispense tax credits for hiring the unemployed. They were especially enthused about his call to ratify long-awaited trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which could expand Florida's share of the world market.
Worker advocates hailed Obama's attempt to extend emergency unemployment benefits, which are scheduled to expire later this year, as well as proposals to help communities rehire teachers and to pour more money into construction of schools and highways.
Perhaps most significant, business and labor leaders generally agreed that Congress should set aside partisan conflicts and strike a deal to rev up the economy.
The reaction was surprisingly upbeat, given the state's persistent unemployment and widespread cynicism about Obama's prior attempts to stimulate the economy. For a day, at least, a call to spur the economy eclipsed concerns about the national debt.
Still, on the day after the president's speech, hope was tempered by skepticism about Washington's ability to get anything done and about whether the president's plan, if adopted, would actually work.
A big question is whether companies that are sitting on lots of cash will be motivated to expand and hire more people. The answer from a sample of business leaders on Friday was yes, but not in huge numbers — and not right away.
Consumer demand would prompt companies to meet it, which often means hiring more workers.
The Obama plan "will definitely have an effect on Consumer Sentiment," said Chris McCarty, who directs consumer surveys at the University of Florida. His latest survey shows Consumer Sentiment only slightly higher than the record low in June 2008, when Florida was hemorrhaging jobs and housing values were plummeting.
"This could give a temporary lift," he said, "and a more permanent one if it were to work."