TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Hollywood Friday morning at Port Everglades Terminal 25. The governor announced $80 million for infrastructure and storm-water resiliency projects in South Florida, targeting programs to mitigate flood damage and the impact of heavy rainfall during storm seasons.
“We’re happy to be here at Port Everglades, we’ve made big investments at the state level into Florida’s ports,” DeSantis said. “Including in the last year $58 million here for Port Everglades. I think some of you may remember we had John down, up to Jacksonville, we did a big announcement just saying ‘we’ve invested in our ports, we have capacity,’ you see all those ships in California or Savannah, we want them to come to Florida.”
DeSantis said since the investment and announcement, Port Everglades has seen a 15% increase in the volume of ships coming to port. He said there was more the state could do to address national economic issues concerning supply chain and inflation. The governor said through work with the legislature, the state was attempting to handle issues with fuel costs, such as his previously announced goal of temporarily ending the state gas tax.
“If you look at people that are building things like homes, the materials and all that that goes into that has just gone through the roof, so you’re looking at really significant inflation,” DeSantis said. “This is something that we’ve been talking about for a long time. It was dismissed just six months ago as something that was transitory but we know that that’s not the case.”
DeSantis said that by expanding, Florida’s ports would be part of the supply chain and inflation solutions, and said the state was proud of its investments in the ports and investment in infrastructure across the state. He highlighted job growth grant funding going toward infrastructure jobs and development, as well as work targeting clean water initiatives and more than 40 Everglades projects completed since he began his tenure as Florida’s governor.
“Since I took office in 2019, business formations in the state’s up 61%. We are the number one state with business formations by a country mile. You look at a state like California they’re almost twice the size of us and we had almost and yet in 2021 we had over 100,000 more business formations than California did,” DeSantis said. “If you look at our tourism, we were the number one destination for tourism, domestic tourism I think we’re hitting record highs. The national tourism office said that 30% of overseas visitors went to Florida, which was an increase of 7% since 2019. Actually in 2020 we had more visitors internationally than New York did, which is something we normally do.”
DeSantis said you see the economic effects in the state’s budget, including the “massive amounts of surplus.” He said the estimates on revenue “keeps having to increase” because of the state’s low tax burdens and high economic activity, particularly in South Florida.
“With the infrastructure, you’ve gotta take care of this across the board,” DeSantis said. “So one of the things we’ve really made a lot of headway on and that we’re going to continue to do is bolstering resiliency. As a storm prone state, we need to make sure we’re mitigating the effects of these weather events.”
Pointing at the state’s resilient weather program enacted in last year’s legislative session, DeSantis said the Resilient Florida program would be getting another boost in the 2022 session. He said over $1 billion would be in the program to provide money to local communities to help strengthen infrastructure and mitigate flood risk. He promised more announcements across the state in the next weeks.
“We’re happy to be awarding over $80 million for various infrastructure projects in South Florida that’ll make a real difference for the folks who live here. First we’re going to award $16.6 million to Broward County for storm water drainage system. The project will also maximize treatment of natural runoff, to reduce nutrients in the waterways. We’re awarding $14.8 million to the City of Hallandale Beach for sewer system modernization. This project will increase the sewer system’s capacity by rehabilitating lift stations, building two new force mains and improving reliability,” DeSantis said. “We’re also awarding $3.2 million to the City of North Lauderdale to fund a new storm-water pump station facility adjacent to the C14 Canal. This project will mitigate the impacts of heavy rainfall and tidal events on the regional drainage system and C14 Canal. We’re also awarding almost $40 million to the City of Miami for two projects. $19.8 million will support storm-water infrastructure in the southwest Wynwood area, and $18.4 million for east Little Havana for storm-water infrastructure that will alleviate repetitive flooding in the area. And finally, we’re awarding $7 million to the city of Opa-locka for community flood protection. The project includes storm-water management and will renovate the 127th Avenue Canal to expand the depth of the canal and stabilize the bank on both sides.”
DeSantis said the administration was excited about the projects and promised to do more to improve the state’s resiliency. The governor took photos with each representative for areas receiving funding for the projects, before turning the podium over to state and local leaders to talk about the funding programs..
Mike Udine, Mayor of Broward County spoke next.
“Welcome to Port Everglades, Florida’s powerhouse port,” Udine said. “We’re one of the leading economic engines for the state of Florida and the nation. We are a busy port, we are an active port, and we’re grateful to have you celebrating with us today for these resiliency funds. Broward County is leading the way and trying to lead when it comes to resilient projects. These dollars will help with storm-water runoff, with climate change, and all of the things we’re doing to build a better, more positive Broward County and state of Florida.”
Udine said he looked forward to working with the governor and state legislature to continue improving Floridians’ lives.
Mayor Francis Suarez of the City of Miami spoke next.
“The City of Miami is getting $40 million for its resiliency program. With our Miami Forever program, we’re spending an additional $200 million so leveraging these funds are going to create a tremendous amount, a benefit for the citizens of our city,” Suarez said. “One of the things that stood out for me, we get all of this information, this is going to protect $1.6 billion worth of property. You think about spending $40 million, you know that’s a lot of money. But you’re protecting $1.6 billion of property, it’s a good investment. As the governor said, you have to be very tactical with the way you invest government resources to protect your infrastructure. So this is a great return on our investment, in terms of the $40 million we’re spending to protect $1.6 billion.”
The governor reiterated bigger announcements coming in the next few weeks, and that the $80 million was just the first of more to come.
“We’ve had a lot of submissions but I think as Mayor Suarez pointed out, which was really good, you know a lot of the communities here in South Florida are putting up money, and then we’re putting in money to help,” DeSantis said. “But they’re not saying ‘hey state, do all this for us,’ so it really is a collaborative effort. So the $1 billion plus we’ll likely have for Resilient Florida when we sign this budget will likely be two-plus billion in terms of what all of the local communities are chipping in.”
He said the state was excited and ready to continue awarding funds for the projects in 2022, and that he was excited about and proud of the work going on at Port Everglades.
“These are some of the jewels, as a maritime state,” DeSantis said. “It’s really been great to see, and the state, we’re going to continue supporting those efforts, because it’s really important for our vitality. And this port impacts so many jobs in this area that people really depend on it, so you can count on our support on it as well.”
Then he opened up a question and answer session. He addressed the current cold weather across Florida, and commented on the state’s continued support to address the weather’s impact on the state’s citrus industry.
Turning to more national politics, DeSantis was asked about a nominee from Florida, but said he had not been aware of one. The question was likely focused on a potential justice who was a graduate of the University of South Florida, J. Michelle Childs, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university in the 1980s. While he didn’t comment on specific judges, he did talk about the national system.
“I think at the end of the day, what you’re dealing with picks for the Supreme Court, you want people that are going to be faithful to the law, and understand how our constitutional system was designed, where you had separate powers. Where you have legislative, executive, judicial. The job of the judicial branch is to apply the law and Constitution, it’s not to rewrite the law and Constitution,” DeSantis said. “I think that judges that understand that, you have to have a certain amount of humility to understand the proper role, it doesn’t mean you can’t be active in deciding cases properly before you, and if you have to come down on the Constitutional side you have to do it, and do it forcefully, but you’re not a philosopher king. You’re not hovering over the entire political system and basically being a super legislature. I think the more that we’re in tune with the judiciary as Hamilton and Madison envisioned, and probably most powerful as President Lincoln envisioned, the more support we’re going to have for a strong constitutional system.”
Questions shifted to COVID-19 afterward.
“We have a huge decline in COVID, and this is very predictable,” DeSantis said. “If you look at what happened with South Africa, then when you saw it go to Europe, it’s different than the previous iterations because it goes much higher but it goes higher quicker and it turns over quicker. So if you look at every other wave, the wave takes longer to build, crests, then takes longer to go down, this shot up quickly then turned over. I think the good thing about omicron is it’s unquestionably milder than what we saw with the delta variant. You see that with the statistics in Florida, it’s overwhelmingly omicron.”
DeSantis said he didn’t know if it was 100% and that it had to be modeled, commenting on potential accuracy issues, but said the important factor was getting people the treatments they needed. The governor took aim, again, at the decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for removing the emergency use authorizations for the Regeneron and Eli-Lilly monoclonal antibody treatmens.
“We were disappointed in the decision to revoke outright the EUAs from monoclonal antibodies which had proven to be effective against the delta variant. We had people that were in the hopper that had appointments that got emails in the middle of the night saying your appointments canceled because the feds had taken this out. We think that’s wrong,” DeSantis said. “Our view is let doctors and patients have this available. We pointed out, when we were down in Miami, there was a lab study that said these aren’t as effective against omicron, but we’ve been giving it to people, physicians have, and they’ve reported positive results. So look, that’s anecdotal, it’s not a clinical trial, but our view is put the information out and then let people make the best decision. And that includes everything. You know, we worked hard to get vaxxes out 2021 particularly, no mandates.”
DeSantis continued the commentary he’s had on other parts of the country and how they’ve handled COVID-19, criticizing forced vaccinations for school children and the policies that has kept unvaccinated nurses out of hospitals.
“You make those decisions about what you want to do. I think if you look around the country and you look at what they’ve done to try to circumscribe people’s rights, saying that kids have to be forced to do this, or they may not go to school in California,” DeSantis said. “Firing cops, firing nurses? In California and other states, they fired nurses who are not vaccinated, even though many of those nurses have recovered from COVID and absolutely have strong.”
The governor also said he was unsurprised by new information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the strength of natural immunity to COVID-19.
“Interestingly the CDC just admitted that natural immunity was more protective than MRNA shots. That was obvious six months ago with the Israeli data and everything,” DeSantis said. “When people like me said it, they actually put out a bogus study saying the opposite, they have admitted that.”
He said the nurses were healthy and they should be allowed to work, while during staff shortages, vaccinated but COVID-positive nurses were being called back to work instead. The governor asked how that makes sense.
“So, I think the way it’s been used to deny people a living, to deny people access to public accommodations has been absolutely disgraceful. And it hasn’t been effective. You look at all those areas that have done that, massive COVID waves, you know you look at the hospitalization, it has not worked but it has created a two-tier society in some of those areas,” DeSantis said.
The governor focused on business health in Florida, particularly restaurants, as an example of how his policies leading the state had weathered the pandemic more effectively.
“You look at Florida, someone put out a thing about restaurant reservations January ’22, compared to 2019 when nobody even knew what COVID was. Miami was up 15%. New York and DC and Boston and some of those, they’re down 50-60%, it’s absolutely killing their economies to be doing this,” DeSantis said. “We absolutely oppose any of that, we’re proud, we were probably the first state to ban vaccine passports, and to say that’s your decision but your civil rights are not going to be…we protected the jobs of thousands of people in the state.”
DeSantis said Florida had saved police officers, fire fighters and nurses who were on the “front lines for 18 months,” while in other states these people who had likely already had COVID were being penalized by heavy-handed mandates. He said the mandates had sewn distrust and that the policies in Florida had protected people’s freedoms and been vindicated, rather than creating divisions in the community.
“Remember, they would say just six months ago, COVID shots mean you will not get COVID, that’s just factually not true,” DeSantis said. “So when you’re putting that out to people, and then you see, I think we all know people who are vaccinated who got COVID over the last month and a half, probably more in the last month and a half with omicron than at any period we’ve seen. That’s just the reality of what we’re dealing with. I’m proud that we’ve been much more rational about this.”
The governor said there were other reasons people were coming to Florida aside from COVID-19, such as the state’s freedoms, being a law and order state, and the state’s strong economy.