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DeSantis faces high inflation in Florida as he hammers Biden on rising prices

The inflation rate in the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area hit 7.3%, much higher than the national average.
 
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Miami news conference in March.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Miami news conference in March. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published July 14, 2023

As he relentlessly accuses President Joe Biden and national Democrats of fueling rising costs and fiscal mismanagement, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing stubbornly high inflation in his own backyard.

New data released this week show prices in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area jumped 9% in the 12 months that ended in April.

In the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area, the inflation rate hit 7.3% in the year that ended in May.

The national average, according to the Consumer Price Index, now stands at 4%.

The high cost of living in the Sunshine State opens up what DeSantis’ critics see as a key vulnerability for the Florida governor, who is seeking the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination but has struggled for weeks to narrow a wide polling gap with the Republican primary’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

No president has the power to single-handedly raise or lower the cost of living, and governors have even less power to do so, said Doug Heye, a longtime Republican strategist.

Still, Florida’s high inflation rate “certainly complicates the messaging” for DeSantis, he said.

“There are always situations where inflation is higher in certain communities than others, and it stands to reason that Miami is going to have higher inflation, especially because people are moving there,” Heye said.

But, he added, “it’s certainly something that folks are going to talk about.”

Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and remains close to the former president’s team, said that while DeSantis may not control inflation — which has topped the list of voters’ concerns nationally for more than a year — his tenure as governor is still marked by a persistent affordability crisis.

“There is a bigger problem with Ron and affordability in Florida that doesn’t have to do with national inflation,” Lanza said. “It has to do with the state policies that have driven up costs.”

Related: How has Florida fared economically under DeSantis’ watch?

“You can’t blame him for inflation. That’s Joe Biden’s fault,” he added. “What you can blame him for is contributing to additional costs like home insurance or affordable housing. He’s exacerbated the situation for Florida residents.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis’ campaign did not respond to The Miami Herald’s request for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Florida in recent years to take advantage of warm weather, a favorable business climate and no state income tax — something that DeSantis has boasted about on the campaign trail. But the population surge (Florida is now the fastest-growing state in the country for the first time since 1957) has fueled rapid increases in home prices and rents.

As of May, housing prices were up 17% on an annual basis in Miami, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It really always comes down to supply and demand, and the reason Florida has higher inflation than other parts of the country is that the demand is increasing relative to other parts of the country,” Patrick Newman, an assistant economics professor at Florida Southern College, said. “And that’ll take its time to work itself out.”

Newman said that there’s not a lot that can be done to alleviate Florida’s affordability issues in the short term, at least not “in a healthy manner.”

“What can be done is, I’d say, more encouragement and inducement to get construction companies and developers to build more housing,” he said.

Compounding the housing pressures in Florida are high-interest rates and skyrocketing insurance costs.

On Tuesday, Farmers Insurance announced that it will stop offering home, auto and umbrella policies in Florida, becoming the fourth insurer to exit the state since last year.

Florida lawmakers have passed a suite of legislation in an attempt to mitigate the insurance crisis, but premiums have continued to rise. In an interview with conservative radio host Howie Carr on Wednesday, DeSantis acknowledged Florida homeowners are dealing with a “challenging market,” but predicted that insurers would be more willing to return to Florida after the coming hurricane season.

“I think what’s going to happen is, because we did those reforms, it is now more economical for companies to come in,” DeSantis said. “I think they’re going to wait through this hurricane season, then I think they’re going to be more willing to deploy capital to Florida.”

Despite the high cost of living in Florida, DeSantis has other assets to point to. The state’s unemployment rate stood at just 2.6% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coming in below the national average of 3.7%.

And he has frequently highlighted his decision to reopen his state to economic activity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — a move that allowed employment to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels much faster than the U.S. as a whole.

Earlier this year, DeSantis signed a $1.3 billion tax package that expands sales tax holidays and carves out permanent tax exemptions for baby and toddler products, like diapers, strollers and cribs.

Last month, he announced a $100 million down payment assistance program for certain workers. DeSantis has continued to blame rising costs on Biden and national Democrats.

In public appearances and interviews, the Florida governor frequently rails against what he calls out-of-control government spending, an unaccountable federal bureaucracy and poor decision-making by the Federal Reserve and its Trump-appointed chairperson, Jerome Powell.

“Bidenomics, at the end of the day, means you pay more for everything, your standard of living declines, you have less freedom, but the government has much more power,” DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Sunday.

Yet as he pursues the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination, DeSantis’ critics are more eager to point out his state’s challenges: Buying a home has moved out of reach for many Floridians, property insurance premiums are unlikely to ease in the near future and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a malaria alert across the state.

So far, six locally transmitted cases of malaria have been reported in Sarasota County.

“Florida has real challenges right now. Inflation is sky high, especially in South Florida, Farmers Insurance just withdrew from the state in the middle of hurricane season, and malaria is breaking out all over,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, intentionally mangling the governor’s name.

“It’s time for Rob DeSanctiminious to come home and deal with the problems he was elected to solve.”

The state’s rising cost of living has also opened DeSantis up to new attacks from Democrats, who are eager to draw a contrast between cooling national inflation rates and persistently high prices in Florida.

Nikki Fried, the chairperson of the Florida Democratic Party, said that the Sunshine State had become “the nation’s inflation capital” under DeSantis.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who’s weighing a challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott next year, described the towering cost of living in Florida as the result of the state’s “Desasternomic decline.”

Lanza, the former Trump campaign aide, said that for all DeSantis has to brag about when it comes to his tenure in the Florida governor’s mansion, he also has to be ready to accept at least some blame for the state’s problems.

“There are some advantages that governors running for president have,” Lanza said. “But they also highlight your legislative failures by failing to act. And the governor has failed to act on the rising costs on average Floridians.”

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