Weak economy, high unemployment Fla.'s top story

AP News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2009 11:13 AM

Florida's weak economy, with its high unemployment and foreclosure rates, was the state's top story in 2009, according to a vote of newspaper editors conducted by The Associated Press.

Florida's unemployment rate hit 11.5 percent in November, the highest since 1975, with more than a million people out of work. That's up from 8.6 percent in January and from 3.3 percent in 2006. Over the past year, Florida has lost 284,800 jobs, with construction job losses leading all other industries with 73,300 fewer jobs.

The state also has the second-highest foreclosure rate _ one out of every 165 homes was in some stage of foreclosure last month, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Only Nevada's rate was worse. Housing prices had dropped almost 7 percent in October over the same month last year, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

The editors voted the implosion of Tiger Woods' once-pristine reputation as the year's No. 2 story. What began as a one-car fender-bender outside the golfer's suburban Orlando home the morning after Thanksgiving became an international scandal.

Numerous women claimed they'd been Woods' lovers and he went into hiding, issuing statements apologizing for his infidelity and for hurting his wife and their two young children. He announced he is leaving the PGA Tour indefinitely to "focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person."

Rounding out the Top 10 were:

_ Florida's population declined for the first time since right after World War II, falling 58,000. The weak economy and high unemployment were blamed. The population is estimated at 18.3 million.

_ State House Speaker Ray Sansom resigned his leadership post and was indicted amid allegations he steered $6 million to Northwest Florida State College for an airport hangar to be used by a friend. The school then gave Sansom a $110,000 job. He remains charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury but a judge threw out an official misconduct charge. Prosecutors are appealing. The Destin Republican remains in the House.

_ Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he would run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 rather than seek a second gubernatorial term. He is facing strong opposition in next summer's GOP primary from former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.

_ Legendary Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden retired after 34 seasons and two national championships at the school amid criticism that the Seminoles have slid into mediocrity, posting a 6-6 record this season and a 73-42 mark over the last nine. His 388 career wins at Florida State, West Virginia and Samford are the second most in major college football history behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. He will conclude his career New Year's Day at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

_ The state Legislature passed a $66.5 billion budget that contained tuition increases for college students, higher fees for motorists and a $1 a pack increase on cigarettes. The budget was balanced with $5.3 billion in federal stimulus money.

_ U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez resigned in September, saying his only reason was a "desire to move on." Crist appointed his former top aide, George LeMieux, to finish out the last 16 months of Martinez's term.

_ The Florida Gators, behind quarterback Tim Tebow, won their second national football title in three years, beating Oklahoma 24-14 in last January's championship game in Miami.

_ Federal investigators named Miami as one of the major hubs for Medicare fraud nationally, with local criminals siphoning hundreds of millions from the program.