Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to spend $1 billion over four years to harden Florida’s infrastructure is a monetary baby step toward managing the fallout of climate change. Few states are more vulnerable than Florida to severe weather, rising seas and other impacts of a warming climate. But the money the Republican governor included in his proposed budget for next year signals a major shift in policy and messaging. DeSantis has highlighted a statewide priority and offered a rare rallying point for bipartisan consensus.
DeSantis included the “Resilient Florida” initiative as part of the 2022 budget he proposed Thursday. The plan would use taxes on real estate transactions to fund a range of possible uses, from preserving land and building sea walls to hardening water plants and housing and transportation facilities.
The state would spend $180 million in the first year, including about $166 million for projects that help protect “regionally significant assets” from the dangers of rising seas, intensifying storms and localized flooding. Another $12 million would help local governments assess the specific risks their communities face.
DeSantis has taken the right approach by endorsing the need for planning ahead. The Tampa Bay region is one of several major Florida metros that have already organized regional resiliency coalitions. These groups are key to bringing local governments together to forge unified strategies for dealing with a changing climate. DeSantis’ plan would give priority to resiliency projects that secure matching local or federal funds. And the multi-year initiative should also inspire local governments to commit ongoing funds of their own. The plan aligns with the Biden administration’s vision for hardening America’s infrastructure against climate-related impacts, meaning that Florida could become more competitive for federally-sponsored improvements and lucrative grants.
Of course, even $1 billion over four years isn’t that much given the scope of the challenge; a report commissioned by the South Florida Climate Compact found that damage from inaction to that region alone could top $38 billion by 2070. Florida is also far behind thanks to the indifference of former Gov. Rick Scott and the reluctance by Florida Republicans for years to treat climate as a serious issue.
And now there’s the political reality: Can Florida afford this program as the pandemic continues to hammer the economy, and will DeSantis make it a priority in negotiations with the Legislature? The governor’s proposed $96.6 billion budget for the year beginning in July is $4.3 billion more than what lawmakers passed last year. But Florida has stayed afloat during the economic downturn in part through the infusion of billions of dollars in federal COVID relief.
The governor’s budget is only a recommendation, but the Legislature should see Resilient Florida as a key investment in the state’s economy, in public health and safety and in an improved atmosphere for governing. With Florida’s property market still strong, and borrowing costs low, the documentary stamp tax revenues could provide a healthy base of consistent funding. The initiative could broker a new era of collaboration across Florida, spark new hiring and put the Sunshine State higher on the federal radar for assistance. Hardening alone won’t change the dynamics that are making a warmer climate, but it is a critical component for managing the risks ahead.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, editorial writers John Hill and Jim Verhulst, and Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news