Doug Wheeler: Bill’s unintended consequences could hurt Florida’s economy

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Florida’s local government seaports build on local community support and respond quickly to market opportunities outside of political pressures.

Over the past year, the global maritime industry has been faced with significant challenges due to supply chain disruptions and impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Failure to adapt to these challenges swiftly and effectively may result in a loss to our state’s competitive edge, damaging one of the foundations of Florida’s economy — international commerce.

Recently filed state legislation could add to these challenges.

The unintended consequences of SB 426/HB 267, which broadly preempts local government ownership and control currently in effect at Florida’s 14 deepwater seaports, will upend years of productive investments and business success.

Florida’s seaport governance and operational model of local government ownership and control have been in place since before the creation of Florida as a state in 1845. This local government authority structure is the most common structure in every U.S. state, with significant ocean access and lengthy shorelines.

The Seaport Governance Analysis conducted by Florida TaxWatch in 2014 concluded that successful port structures “feature community integration, support and trust,” which allows the governance of the port to be “stable and predictable.”

Florida’s local government seaports build on local community support, integrate the efforts of localized logistics and freight firms, provide stable and predictable management structures, and respond quickly to market opportunities outside of political pressures.

Our seaports enter into myriad contracts for the development and use of land owned by the local government entity. This may include public/private partnerships to invest local and public dollars in a petroleum facility to bring fuel to Florida residents, cargo terminals that deliver goods to Floridians and the world, or cruise terminals that support Florida’s tourism economy by attracting millions of cruise passengers to our state.

Currently, the federal government, not the state of Florida, imposes numerous standards and regulations that must be followed prior to any maritime operations taken by our local government seaports in port capacity and facilities.

This includes the approval of operation plans that must provide adequate investment in infrastructure and personnel to ensure that facilities that handle passengers and hazardous materials are secure and protected.

Further, federal government agencies and the state of Florida require the development of a comprehensive master plan at each seaport in order to apply for many federal or state grant programs. These plans have allowed for the investment of local funds — the primary source of investments in local seaports — as well as state and federal dollars, enhancing the economic vitality of local port communities and all of Florida.

Strategic local, state and federal investments have allowed Florida to become our nation’s pier to the world.

Together, our local government seaports generate nearly 900,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $117.6 billion in economic value to the state through cargo and cruise activities, accounting for approximately 13% of Florida’s gross domestic product and $4.2 billion in state and local taxes.

The unintended consequences of the legislation as proposed put at risk the strategic investments that are critical to Florida seaport infrastructure and will have long-lasting, far-reaching negative impacts on Florida’s economy.


Doug Wheeler is President and CEO of the Florida Ports Council, the professional association of Florida’s public seaports, providing advocacy, leadership and research on seaport-related issues before state and federal government.

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