Galvano: Meeting Florida's financial challenges -- Hurricane recovery, infrastructure, education

SCOTT KEELER  |   TimesNew Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, addresses members of the Florida Senate, Tuesday, November 20, 2018 during the 2018 Organization Session in Tallahassee.
SCOTT KEELER | TimesNew Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, addresses members of the Florida Senate, Tuesday, November 20, 2018 during the 2018 Organization Session in Tallahassee.
Published March 1, 2019

Next week will mark five months since Hurricane Michael ravaged Florida's Panhandle with unprecedented force, leaving a trail of debris and destruction that rendered many of our Panhandle communities unrecognizable. As legislators from across Florida prepare to begin the 2019 session on Tuesday, Hurricane Michael's shadow looms large over Tallahassee. This session, we will work to help our Panhandle communities recover as expeditiously as possible while balancing our duty to pass a balanced budget that funds critical functions and obligations of government across Florida.

The most recent projections indicate the total state costs of Hurricanes Irma and Michael will exceed $2.7 billion. The state cost of Irma exceeded $1.1 billion, while the state cost of Michael is nearly $1.6 billion.

While the federal government is expected to cover a substantial portion of the total state cost through reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, those funds will most likely not arrive this fiscal year. In fact to date, Florida has received only $72.2 million in federal reimbursements to general revenue for Irma, and $0 for Michael.

To provide some perspective, for our entire state budget $1 billion is the amount of general revenue that bond houses recommend setting aside annually to preserve our credit rating. So essentially, you could compare the current situation with our budget to what has occurred in many Florida families who have had to use all of their rainy day fund, and then some, to cover basic expenses related to these devastating storms.

In short, the tremendous amount of funding the state has already invested in hurricane recovery places significant constraints on our budget that will guide every facet of our decision-making in all other areas. As we move forward, we must continue to discern what recovery costs are reimbursable by insurance or the federal government; what costs are not reimbursable; and, what costs would be reimbursable by the federal government or insurance if not for the state funding those costs. We want to move quickly, but deliberately and with an eye toward both sustained, long-term recovery for our families and businesses and prudent fiscal management of state funds as we await the significant federal reimbursements for which we are entitled.

Therefore, as we look toward the coming session, it is first imperative that we replenish our reserves, so we are prepared to respond when future challenges inevitably strike our state. Next, our experience with hurricanes has taught us how intrinsically linked infrastructure is to security, preparation, and recovery, from evacuation routes to speedy restoration of cellular service and electrical power. As Florida gains more than 850 people a day, equaling a population the size of Orlando every year, forward-looking investments in infrastructure are critical to our future, including sustainability and security and are essential to industry and the economy.

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Along these lines, other important areas for investment and innovation include our environment and water systems. In particular, we must take steps to understand, prevent, and mitigate harmful algae and red tide.

In addition, we must continue the gains we have made in education by increasing our state investment in K-12 education with a balanced approach that maximizes parental choice and empowers families, while at the same time supporting teachers, reducing burdensome regulations and elevating the traditional neighborhood public schools that have been the backbone of our education system for generations. This includes honoring the memory of the 17 Floridians we lost in Parkland through a continued focus on safety and security in our schools.

As I prepare to head back to Tallahassee on Sunday, I am also cognizant of the possibility that major issues we will face have yet to reveal themselves. We faced that reality last February when the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School forever changed the way we address school safety, and again in October when over a fall weekend Hurricane Michael developed from a blip on the radar to a life-changing storm that altered the landscape of our state for a generation.

By being disciplined with our budget and responsibly planning for our future, we can continue to have a state that is economically strong, one in which families come to prosper and where private sector innovators come to expand and grow their businesses and our economy.

Senate President Bill Galvano is a Bradenton Republican whose district includes a large portion of southern Hillsborough County.