Responses to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State address Tuesday are a mixed bag.
Democrats have largely rallied against his speech, which focused on wins during the 2019 Legislative Session and looked forward to continued momentum as the 2020 Session kicks off.
“Governor Ron DeSantis could have worked to start this new decade off on a plan that helps all Floridians, but instead he continues to push an agenda that creates haves and have-nots,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo wrote in a statement.
She called the Governor out for his education agenda including support for charter schools and his plan to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year.
“He heaps praise on charter schools while forcing public schools to compete with for-profit charters for public funds. He talks about raising pay in our schools but offers a plan that leaves senior teachers behind along with so many workers in our schools,” Rizzo wrote.
Her criticism echoed that of two ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate. Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Kionne McGhee both blasted DeSantis’ teacher pay raise proposal for leaving out longtime teachers and support staff.
Rizzo also called DeSantis out for promoting civil rights, yet supporting Amendment 4 implementing legislation that continues to require returning citizens to satisfy all fines and fees before having their voting rights restored, a move some Democrats have compared to a poll tax.
And like Gibson and McGhee, Rizzo also lamented DeSantis’ limited plan to reduce prescription drug costs.
“DeSantis talks about lowering prescription drug costs, but his only solution is to tell people to buy Canadian. All the while, the Governor has refused to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Floridians who need access to health care,” Rizzo wrote. “DeSantis has a plan, it is a plan to leave working Floridians behind. Florida deserves better!”
The entire Florida Democratic Congressional delegation further called on DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature to expand Medicaid, a move they have failed to make for years.
“The State of Florida is one of the last of a handful of states yet to expand Medicaid and it is costing our state billions of dollars, many lives and thousands of jobs. We urge you to develop a plan to bring billions of our taxpayer dollars home to serve our neighbors and boost our economy. We pledge to work with you to ensure all Floridians have affordable, quality health care. Otherwise, Florida will continue to provide massive subsidies to other states that have expanded Medicaid,” the group wrote in a letter.
The delegation includes Congress members Stephanie Murphy, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Debbie Mucarsel–Powell and Donna Shalala.
Meanwhile, Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, praised DeSantis’ careful attention to the environment.
“Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership last year in securing $625 million in state funding for Everglades restoration projects and water quality protection, the federal government has now been persuaded to meet its long overdue obligations,” Eikenberg wrote. “As the Governor said today, ‘Because Florida had skin in the game, we were able to get support from the Trump administration for another $200 million for Everglades restoration.’”
Eikenberg further called on the Legislature to approve the $625 million 2019 appropriation on a recurring basis.
“Only by doing so can we provide certainty to complete the complex pipeline of projects and continue to persuade the federal government to meet its equal obligations,” he said.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials also applauded DeSantis’ commitment to the environment.
“As a result of Governor DeSantis’ leadership and commitment to protection of the state’s natural resources, there is a true environmental movement underway in Florida,” FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said. “In just one short year, we have seen advancements that haven’t been realized in decades. Today’s State of the State outlined the Governor’s continued dedication to making Florida’s environment a priority.”
The agency’s Chief Science Officer, Thomas Frazier, reacted specifically to the Governor’s proposed water quality initiative based on recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force.
“The Governor’s proposal lays out the most progressive and comprehensive environmental reform the state has seen in more than a decade. It is refreshing and rewarding to know that science has been inserted back into the policy arena,” Frazier said.
And Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said the Governor’s proposed budget is a win for hurricane recovery efforts.
“As we enter the 2020 Legislative Session, it’s clear that Governor DeSantis and this Division are continuing to prioritize community recovery and resiliency, especially through proposals like the $25 million to continue the Hurricane Michael State Recovery Grant,” Moskowitz said. “In 2019, we accelerated funding to communities and distributed $1.4 billion, the most hurricane recovery money distributed in the Division’s history. We are looking forward to continuing this success in the coming Legislative Session and throughout the year.”
Some highlights of those budget proposals include $195 million for Federally Declared Disasters assistance, $1.2 million for a statewide evacuation study and $750,000 to replenish the State Logistics Resource Center.
The Florida Department of Transportation praised DeSantis for his innovative approach to transportation solutions.
“Governor DeSantis continues to have bold plans for Florida’s infrastructure, and the department is committed to turning his strategic vision into a reality as well as preparing for future growth,” said FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault. “As a result of the Governor’s leadership, the state is leveraging innovative solutions to improve safety and reduce congestion throughout the state’s transportation system, and I look forward to reporting even more accomplishments in 2020.”
DeSantis also received praise from the Associated Industries of Florida, a free enterprise group representing Florida businesses.
“Governor DeSantis has delivered on his bold vision for Florida, strengthening our economy, environment, health care and infrastructure system, to name a few. We look forward to working with him and leaders in the Senate and House to continue to make Florida the No.1 state to do business by expanding the horizon on STEMM talent development, lowering taxes, and investing in our state’s infrastructure needs and natural resources. We support his enthusiasm for manufacturing and aerospace growth in the state,” said association president & CEO Tom Feeney.
The Department of Business and Professional regulation also weighed in with its support.
“I applaud Governor DeSantis on his State of the State address and commitment to removing burdensome regulations for hardworking Floridians. His leadership on occupational licensing reform is resulting in real improvements to the state’s business and professional climate. I look forward to continuing our work on these issues together in 2020 and throughout the legislative session,” DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears said.