The (Lakeland) Ledger’s top story on its website Saturday morning is about a Polk County man who avoided prison time in a high-profile child abuse case.
Nowhere on its page, or anywhere on its website for that matter, is there a headline about Sen. Kelli Stargel, one of the region’s favorite daughters, being named Senate budget chief.
We don’t want to pick on The Ledger. They’re a relatively small community newspaper and times are tough for newsrooms like theirs.
But how could they not have coverage of one of the most impactful government decisions to its readers?
Behind Senate President and House Speaker, chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations is, arguably, the most powerful position in the Legislature. Stargel will be directly responsible for overseeing a massive state budget … and at a time when the belt is certain to be tightened, making local appropriations projects less of a priority.
With their own local Senator at the helm of that process, Stargel will wield massive influence over which projects to keep and which to slash. With her own district covering the Lakeland area, that could mean fewer local projects affecting The Ledger’s readership get the ax.
It is no secret that times are tough for media. It’s hard to prioritize state government with a small, lean newsroom at a local publication. But with Stargel in one of the highest positions in leadership, they should be prioritizing it.
Senate President Wilton Simpson named Stargel to the role Friday. In his announcement, he laid out the importance of her role.
“She will be a key member of the Senate leadership and will work to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to play a role in drafting our state budget,” Simpson said.
Florida has enjoyed years of economic growth, but that ended in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic lockdowns. Now, the Sunshine State is facing a $5.4 billion shortfall over the next two years, largely from tourism.
Stargel’s district doesn’t include the state’s busiest tourism sector around Walt Disney World, but it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from her Senate District 22. And her district does include Legoland, which is facing its own dire circumstances related to the pandemic.
“We are all well aware that the ongoing pandemic has placed a tremendous amount of stress on Florida’s economy, and in turn our state budget,” Simpson wrote in his memo. “While the most recent reports indicate that our state is recovering more quickly than we initially thought possible, there is no question that much of our time over the next two years will be spent studying issues related to our budget.”
Stargel will lead budget conversations both of those years. We think that’s something The Ledger should pay attention to as its own local lawmaker leads the conversation.