Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner has quickly become one of the most powerful members of the Florida House.
He chairs Ways and Means, and he is on the track to be Speaker in 2022.
Although he represents Palm Coast, Renner practices law in — and has roots in — Jacksonville, where he found himself speaking Wednesday to a crowd at the Southside Business Men’s Club.
The remarks Wednesday offered optimism tempered by a sense of Florida’s challenges, both in this Legislative Session and in the years ahead.
While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.
Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long term expectations that Florida could add six to eight million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.
Despite Florida being “the #1 state for fiscal health,” Renner contends that the state’s budget looks to be a “break even proposition,” with a meager $50 million surplus — even before Irma happened.
“I don’t know where we are,” Renner said, regarding the budget situation.
Another pressure Renner cited: the state’s health care budget, with Medicaid comprising almost a third of budget, with growth in costs outpacing revenues.
Federal financial help in absorbing the influx of people from Puerto Rico, Renner said, is “something we’d like to see.” But he didn’t sound optimistic that’s in the cards.
Renner also discussed the ongoing imbroglio about medical marijuana; though he didn’t support Amendment 2, he respects the mandate of the voters, noting that “70 percent plus” voted in favor of the ballot measure.
Renner does not believe the amendment covers smokeable cannabis, presenting a familiar argument that without dosage controls and with toxins emitted from burning the herb, “it’s not medicine” and it’s hard to regulate “specific potency” in the way one can with pills, lotions, and vaping.
Regarding implementation delays of the program, Renner says it’s “taken too long,” and fault lies with the Department of Health in “getting the process up and running” for “individuals who are entitled to” medical cannabis.
Renner moved on to discuss economic incentives; he doesn’t expect any change in the House policy there.
Meanwhile, when asked about Amazon’s new headquarters — one that many Florida cities have extended bids for, amidst a sea of cities elsewhere in the country offering unprecedented tax breaks to draw in the company — Renner seemed to think that “Florida is a permanent incentive” and that, as such, more tangible incentives aren’t necessary.
“Government picking winners and losers is something I can’t get my arms around,” Renner said, occasioning applause from the crowd.