State of the States: Florida

By: Michael Rummel

The Sunshine State is still struggling with the effects of Hurricane Irma. While the devastation in Puerto Rico has (understandably) dominated national news coverage, residents of the Keys and southern counties are also working to recover from the damage. Florida is still spending over $2 million a week on cleanup efforts, a cost that is adding up quickly, and it could drain the state’s emergency budget if not addressed soon.

The amount of money in loans approved by the Small Business Administration is telling as well. The SBA has approved in excess of $500 million in loans to small businesses, and the number looks set to rise. A complete return to normalcy for residents and businesses in the areas most affected by the hurricane will take months.

Floridians affected by the hurricane have signed up in droves for food stamp benefits. Nearly a billion dollars in assistance has been granted, with worryingly little oversight in many places. Compare this to the $5.2 Billion spent yearly by the Florida government for all its residents, and it’s clear how extensive the program is. There are real concerns that people are taking advantage of the benefits, but there are no doubts that it’s helping many people who otherwise would not be able to put food on their table.

One famous staple of Florida’s economy, citrus, looks set for a tough year. Current projections have oranges 27% down from last season, and grapefruits at a 40% decrease. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has warned that even these grim forecasts are likely too low. It is not going to be a good year for citrus growers.

In non-hurricane news, Gov. Rick Scott has unveiled his budget proposal, an $84.7 billion behemoth that would garner support from a variety of interest groups that could be quite helpful in Scott’s upcoming Senate bid. It’s unknown how much of this budget will actually get passed, as the state legislature is responsible for this, but the Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, seems favorable to the bill.

Florida, going into 2018, is set to be one of the most highly contested states in the entire country. Nearly everything is going to be on the ballot next November, from seats  in the state legislature to one in the Senate. Florida will have 27 state House seats up for grabs this midterm, and with Democrats doing everything in their power to flip the House, it’s likely that Floridians will be inundated with ads on television, Facebook, canvassers, flyers, mailers, billboards, and all sorts of increasingly creative methods intended to get political messages out.

This Georgian wishes Floridians the best of luck in weathering the storm.

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