Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, was in Pennsylvania Monday, urging employers to go South for sunshine, Wawa Cuban hoagies, and lower personal income taxes.
On Monday at the Four Seasons Hotel, Scott stood with Wawa Inc. CEO Chris Gheysens, whose company has opened 61 stores in Florida after planning for 40. "We didn't expect it would be this much more efficient, this much more streamlined," Gheysens said.
"I'm excited to hear it's easier to do business in our state than in other states," responded Scott, who said he would spend two days here wooing Pennsylvania companies.
The reality, like Florida's weather, is more nuanced.
Pennsylvania wages are higher and unemployment is lower than in Florida. But Florida has been growing faster than Pennsylvania for many years, as former Northerners resettle, retire, and take advantage of its pro-development climate.
Florida also enjoys a higher credit rating - Aa1 at Moody's Investors Service vs. Aa3, two notches lower, for Pennsylvania - a sign of the pressure Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican Legislature face as they cope with school spending and pensions.
Pennsylvania, once the second most populous state after New York, has also fallen behind Florida, Texas, California, and Illinois since World War II. Pennsylvania remains vulnerable to job losses because growing natural gas, biotech, and software employers remain too small to replace endangered drug, metals, and defense jobs, Wells Fargo Securities economist Mark Vitner wrote last month. Vitner suggested that the state offer more investment tax breaks and update its aging infrastructure.
Scott, who started Columbia Hospital Corp., prefaced his trip by declaring that Wolf, a longtime York County businessman, is not "focused on creating an environment where our families and job creators will succeed."
That led Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, to brand Scott's visit "a political stunt."
"I'd be happy to have Pennsylvania compete against Florida for businesses any day of the week," Wolf said Monday. "We have so many great things going for us," citing "world-class cities, universities," and a "great workforce."
The Keystone Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a labor-backed think tank, noted that Pennsylvanians are more likely to have a job, and to earn more, than Scott's constituents. The Pennsylvania unemployment rate in December was 4.8 percent; Florida's was 5.6 percent. Pennsylvania's average hourly wage at the end of 2014 was $16.95; Florida's was $15.82.
Scott bragged in announcing his visit that "Pennsylvania's corporate income tax is nearly double Florida's."
The top business income tax rate is higher here than Florida's maximum. But actual tax burdens vary, and Florida businesses paid 5.5 percent of their income to state and local governments in 2012 and 2013, compared with just 4.6 percent for Pennsylvania businesses, according to a report last August by the Council on State Taxation, a corporate taxpayers' group, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young L.L.P.
Pennsylvania's state personal income tax rate of 3.07 percent is that much more than Florida residents pay, though. Florida imposes no personal income tax. It relies on other taxes instead.
A 2010 report by the Tax Foundation found that Florida businesses paid more in sales and property taxes than the U.S. average. By contrast, Pennsylvania businesses paid less than the U.S. average for sales and property taxes.
Scott avoided Pennsylvania when it was run by fellow Republican Tom Corbett, whom Wolf beat last year. Scott also has wooed companies in California, New York, and Illinois when they were under Democratic governors,
Wawa Inc. has been opening stores in Florida since 2013, starting in the Tampa and Orlando areas, pleasing hoagie-homesick Philadelphia expatriates and job-starved Florida towns.
Wawa plans 25 more Florida stores this year, and hopes to have 100 there by 2016. But there are no plans to heed Scott's call and move Wawa's headquarters from Baltimore Pike west of Media. To the contrary, Wawa plans to spend $75 million to expand its office complex and add research facilities. "We'll always call this home," said spokeswoman Lori Bruce.
Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.