The Florida League of Cities gathered last week in Orlando to discuss its upcoming state and federal legislative agenda.
Even though the U.S. House would approve the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (BID) just after the conference concluded, the BID was discussed in a number of the panels along with a variety of other state and federal funding streams for local resilience and sustainability initiatives.
The local elected officials at the Florida League of Cities conference are not alone. Florida policymakers, across the board, are eager to pull down BID funds to upgrade the state’s most vulnerable assets. Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are already discussing how the state may spend monies included in the BID.
The BID is, of course, the latest massive appropriation directed at upgrading and hardening the nation’s sagging and vulnerable infrastructure. But resiliency has been an important priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis as well. This year the Governor and Republican leadership in the Legislature approved hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for local communities. The application process for much of that money is closing, and many of the cities represented at the FLC meeting are eager to fund priority projects through those programs.
In addition to those existing state and federal American Rescue Plan money as well as BID funding, there could be additional federal funds made available through the Democrats’ Build Back Better (BBB) climate package.
“The bottom line is that state and federal policymakers are appropriating trillions of dollars for communities to address a variety of challenges associated with climate change. And, the cities that have invested the time and energy to put together resiliency plans, and plans to reach carbon neutrality (or net-zero), are going to be in a stronger position to advocate for state and federal funding of projects,” said Franklin Coley, Director of the Florida Race to Zero project, a friendly competition between Florida’s municipalities to race to zero emissions.
Coley’s Florida Race to Zero panel discussion included Ann Livingston of the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) and Josh Radoff of Local Government for Sustainability (ICLEI), both of whom work with municipalities to share best practices and assist city staff with their resiliency plans.
SSDN and ICLEI collectively maintain around 80 municipalities as members in the state. They offered their organization’s resources to conference goers that may want to create sustainability and resiliency plans for their own communities.
Zach Eicholz, Sustainability Manager for the City of Cape Canaveral, has worked with both ICLEI and SSDN and told attendees that small cities are just as capable as big cities in this space.
The City of Cape Canaveral recently joined the Florida Race to Zero campaign and as a small coastal community, the city has made resiliency a priority.
Tampa Councilman Joseph Citro noted that Tampa not only joined the Race to Zero but also made a commitment to 100% clean energy. He added that smaller cities in some ways have an advantage in that they have a “clean slate.” Those cities often don’t have a large portfolio of aged assets.
Eicholz stressed that policy makers — whether from cities big or small — shouldn’t view resilience separate and apart from other aspects of city planning, but rather as an essential part of it.
“Cities that are incorporating carbon mitigation and resiliency strategies into their planning processes can make more informed, long-term planning decisions, and they will be better positioned to advocate for community priorities at the state and federal level,” Coley said. “With state and federal appropriators directing trillions of the projects toward these types of projects, the time couldn’t be better for communities to engage.”