A Conversation With Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida, and Chris Sprowls, Speaker-Designate, Florida House of Representatives
As states around the nation begin to reopen their economies, citizens, business owners and lawmakers are contemplating the social and financial impacts of COVID-19. These initial steps offer an early indication of what a post-coronavirus world will look like. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about this “new normal” and the shape economic recovery will take in communities around the country.
To shed some light on what the future may hold for the Sunshine State and the nation at large, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney recently hosted a webinar with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Chris Sprowls, Speaker-Designate of the Florida House of Representatives. The two leaders shared insights on emerging legislative priorities in Tallahassee and key recovery imperatives while offering a national perspective on long-term economic and cultural shifts driven by COVID-19.
Here are four key takeaways from their conversation.
1. Florida is Uniquely Positioned for Recovery
Florida is in a solid position for recovery as much of the state enters Phase 1 of businesses reopening and restarting the economy. While the impact of COVID-19 throughout the state has been widespread and tragic, the death rate is below the national average, and Florida has conducted more tests than any other state, save for New York and California. A majority of COVID-19 cases in the state are located in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. This region has come together in a meaningful way to coordinate response strategies and share resources, which should help to flatten the curve. This collaboration has been evident at the state level as Governor Ron DeSantis continues to work closely with local officials throughout Florida to develop thoughtful protocols and effectively execute plans to reopen the economy.
At the same time, Florida’s fiscal responsibility at the state level over the last several decades will help streamline recovery. In addition to its constitutionally mandated balance budger, the state has been prudent in keeping its debt low and resisting the urge to spend irresponsibly. The state has a AAA bond rating, and unlike many other states, it has emergency reserves that total close to 15 percent of general revenue. This fiscal prudence means Florida can be strategic about how to spend the significant federal stimulus money coming to the state and avoid using non-recurring funding to cover shortfalls in recurring expenses.
In these early stages of the economic recovery, all eyes are on the state’s tourism industry. As gas tax revenue fell flat as early as the beginning of March and a sharp decline in sales tax created a significant revenue shortfall, the state is focused on showcasing its diverse economy, beyond Mickey Mouse and beautiful beaches. The agriculture and manufacturing industries have an important presence in state economy and legislators are actively exploring opportunities to use stimulus money to continue to attract businesses in the tech sector and beyond to set up shop in Florida. While the ultimate impact from this pandemic will be long-felt and challenging, Florida is in a strong a place to restore consumer confidence and get businesses back up and running.
2. Education Must Be a Priority
As learners of all ages around the nation navigate digital learning, Florida’s history of embracing school choice and virtual learning will also be an advantage for the state’s 2.6 million students. Giving teachers, parents and students the resources they need to maximize remote learning will be a major legislative priority in the short term. Enhancing access to broadband internet and training teachers will allow the state to build on e-learning successes it’s achieved with the Florida Virtual School and a proven track record of taking a more strategic approach to education.
Reopening schools and universities will be a critical bellwether of recovery efforts in Florida and nationwide. It’s a key step to giving more parents a chance to resume working and to prepare the next generation of high school and college graduates to enter the workforce.
3. Advance Preparation is Key to Effective Response
Florida officials are no strangers to planning for disasters, with the state having recovered from its fair share of hurricanes and extreme weather. Legislators are actively exploring an additional layer of disaster relief funding beyond emergency reserves to better prepare for events like this pandemic. The fund would allow officials to react more quickly and strategically without taking on unnecessary financial risk. Other states navigating unique realities of COVID-19 are realizing they shouldn’t rely solely on federal agencies to provide relief for their specific challenges. Efforts to stockpile supplies, reinforce healthcare infrastructure and commit funds to future disasters are efforts that can pay major dividends in the future.
4. There is Opportunity in Recovery
The last several months have presented unprecedented challenges for students, workers, families and business owners across the country. This pandemic will define a generation with yet more hurdles to overcome. From reopening schools to major reforms to our medical supply chains – life will look different in a post-COVID-19 world
Nationwide, this is an opportunity to rethink big questions around how people live, work and interact. There are opportunities to improve public health and ensure our governments and our citizens are better prepared for future uncertainty. There’s the potential to capture the benefits of remote work for more of the country’s workforce and bolster remote learning capabilities for students of all ages. Amid these tremendous challenges, identifying opportunities and realizing the potential to improve society is essential in Florida and throughout the country.
To listen to the webinar recording, CLICK HERE.
For more cutting-edge perspectives on legal and business implications of COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 resource center.