JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke Monday morning at the JRFD Fire Station in Jacksonville. He was joined by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Director for the Division of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie. At the event he announced an increase of $10 million to the state’s emergency response budget.
Signage at the event read “Disaster Response.”
As the event started, the governor introduced the gathered officials and speakers, as well as thanked the members of Jacksonville’s Task Force 5 for urban search and rescue. He promised a big announcement.
“We are still in the midst of the disaster preparedness tax holiday, so you have a few more days on that, so if you need supplies, now is the time to do that,” DeSantis said, highlighting some of the recent tax holidays signed into law, mentioning improvements being made. “But you do have situations where you do have need for disaster response. We saw it most recently last year with the collapse of the tower in Surfside, Florida. All of a sudden, kind of in the middle of the night, you had another tower had to be evacuated, and you had these folks trying to rescue people on a really really difficult set of circumstances. There were fires raging, there was all kinds of things when you get down there. You had our South Florida USAR teams down, but eventually we had everyone in the state was down there. It was something that they worked awfully hard at. But when you have these situations, these are some of the guys that we want there, doing this really really important work. We decided with our budget this year, we want to make an impact at the state level to help these USAR teams. A lot of these teams, came into being in a big way with federal funding, but that has really gone by the wayside over the years. So we wanted to say, what could we do on the state side, to really show our support?”
DeSantis referenced the signing of the state budget last week, and said the state would be providing an extra $10 million for Florida’s urban search and rescue teams, saying it was the more funding than the state had ever provided for it before.
“Part of this was you have equipment that needs to be updated, you have maintenance costs, you have different things about servicing vehicles, and then you have training and the things that go into that,” DeSantis said. “So these teams provide great assistance when you have major events. They also aid in infrastructure restoration, they can work with emergency road clearance teams and utility crews to pave a path for communities to make repairs, particularly when you have these lifesaving actions that depend on that. When you have an event, particularly like a hurricane, you obviously want to get people to physical safety, but then afterwards you have to get the power back on, you gotta do a lot of those things. We have some utility companies that have a lot of capacity we have some others, maybe municipal, may not have quite as many. These teams are really quite involved, really the whole gamut for that.”
DeSantis thanked the state’s search and rescue teams for their work across Florida, not just at Surfside. Then he said the state would be delivering $1,000 bonuses again to every firefighter in Florida, the second time the bonuses were provided by the state.
“This is a big investment, but I think it’s an investment that is absolutely worth it and it’s well-deserved for the folks that have done so much to protect our communities,” DeSantis said. “We are, as I mentioned, in hurricane season, they predict a more active season, but I always say, honestly these predictions, you don’t know either way. Just assume we’re going to have hurricanes. Be prepared, and if we end up not getting a significant amount, then great, but just assume that you’re going to have to deal with this throughout the hurricane season. We did see really significant rains, it was not a named tropical storm as it moved through Southern Florida, but it did dump a lot of rain and it eventually was a named storm as it got into the Atlantic. That’s just going to peter out without probably interacting with much landfall from there. But, the bottom line is, is that this is something we need to do.”
The governor promoted the tax free holiday for disaster supplies again, reminding those gathered to get supplies while there were more opportunities, even “with the supply chain problems.” The holiday lasts until June 10, and covers items like food storage, pet supplies, portable radios, generators, and other items that have not previously been included.
“When you think about it, when you have these things come, a lot of people have to scurry, not only to protect their families, but to protect their pets, and so, you’re going to be able to do that to make sure that your pets are safe,” DeSantis said, saying the state was excited for the opportunities. “You never want to deal with disasters, but as a state that is prone to this, we take pride in the professionalism of the folks that are involved all across the way as first responders.”
He said the state’s emergency division was the best in the country, saying that at the local and county levels, there were “phenomenal people” from the bottom up.
“They’re leading on the ground, we’re providing support and management at the state level, and sometimes we have to rely on the federal government to help as well. It was a little easier for me to get help my first two years as governor, but what are you gonna do? It’s just kind of how the cookie crumbles,” DeSantis said. “But we really are proud of the people involved, they are professionals, they understand that in Florida this is just something that you have to take seriously, and so they do that time and time again. Let’s pray that we have an uneventful hurricane season, but let’s also be prepared that if we do face storms, that we’re going to be in a situation to respond. I’m excited to get this money in the budget, I think it’s going to be money well spent, and again I want to thank the folks standing behind me for their service to our communities.”
Then CFO Patronis spoke. He praised the governor for his efforts to give bonuses to first responders and for adding funding for the state’s urban search and rescue teams, which he called a historic investment.
“These are the same teams that deploy out to Louisiana, Texas, Panama City, where Hurricane Michael…My first mission I ever went on was with Task Force 5,” Patronis said. “As they go and they leave their families to deploy out, they sleep in parking lots, in grocery stores, going from door to door checking on households and the welfare of the citizens affected by the storm. At the same time, at a moment’s notice they’re deploying to work out on a one acre site at Surfside, for 12 hours straight, for seven days straight, working 24 hour shifts doing everything they can. So I love that the governor recognizes their heroism, their leadership, and understands that they need the resources and tools to do their jobs.”
Then he praised DEM Director Guthrie, calling him a hometown hero.
“I don’t know governor, if I’ve ever had, a executive director of the department of emergency management who has been as capable and thorough and just never stops working for the state, the citizens of Florida,” Patronis said, urging applause of Guthrie. Then he reminded those gathered about the coming tax holidays in addition to the ones currently in effect, before mentioning the previous special session on property insurance.
The Jacksonville fire chief spoke next, praising DeSantis for the first responder bonuses and his support more generally of emergency personnel. Guthrie spoke after, and he started by thanking the governor for his support of emergency responders.
“We saw firsthand what they could do at Surfside back last year, and some of the challenges and issues we faced with The equipment there,” Guthrie said, thanking DeSantis and Patronis for the additional funding. “The division relies heavily on these urban search and rescue teams across the state of Florida. They are an invaluable support asset to us, you know, we’re not a state that owns a fire rescue service, so we have to partner with our local communities for this type of activity. So again, we’re very very appreciative of the eight urban search and rescue teams across the state that help us out.”
Guthrie said the new funding will both provide training opportunities and allow the state’s teams to have a joint training exercise every year in what he called a “full-scale exercise” so that responders were ready to work in any event that affects the state. He also mentioned the disaster preparedness tax holiday and encouraged residents to shop “conscientiously.”
“We know we have, I think the governor likes to refer to it as Bidenflation, as we have some of those issues coming up, we want to make sure that people are going to the grocery store, getting some type of kit material for their preparedness kit, make some conscientious decisions especially if you’re impacted by inflation, moving from fresh fruits and vegetables and meats to canned fruits, vegetables, meats,” Guthrie said. “Those are things you can buy at the grocery store this weekend that’ll help you be ready for disaster and have five to seven days of supplies. Again, governor, CFO Patronis, especially governor, thank you for your leadership on this.”
DeSantis came back to the podium to discuss disaster preparedness and commented on the current infant formula shortages.
“We’re now seeing this massive problem with baby formula over the past few months. They shut down Abbott’s plant and I don’t even think Abbott did anything wrong, they were really slow to bring that to a conclusion, now I think the plant’s going back,” DeSantis said. “But it’s been a total disaster with that. It’s been very difficult for a lot of mothers, to be able to get the infant formula they need. And we’ve seen other things just be out over however many months. So with some of the stuff you may need for disaster preparedness, if we do have something bearing down, it gets really close and you wait, not only are you going to have to deal with the rush generally, but then you don’t even know what some of this will be in terms of supply chain issues.”
The governor praised state efforts to bring suppliers to Florida ports instead, saying that cargo deliveries to Florida have been expanded, but that “a lot of issues that have been going on” make it harder and urged residents to take advantage of the tax holidays.
“Finally, I’d just like to point out that we did do the budget last week, and our state has never been in a stronger fiscal position,” DeSantis said. “If you look at, we have a record surplus in the state of Florida. Just our rainy day fund, it was about $1.2 billion when I became governor, now it’s over $3 billion just for rainy day.”
He said multiple state trust funds were unallocated on their balances while the general revenue was also high, saying that he’d vetoed $3 billion out of the budget to be prepared for the long haul in case of a recession. The governor said the state did not want to be in a position to make reductions in case of policies in Washington making a slowdown occur, adding that the state was sitting on a lot of reserves to avoid budget cuts.
“I think all in all, to be able to see that fiscal posture is something people should be very proud of,” DeSantis said. He noted that despite Florida’s low tax burden, the state had been able to provide for many programs, from Everglades restoration to education funding, big tax relief for residents, and additional funding for the law enforcement and first responders bonuses.
“I look, I read this stuff, that Biden can’t understand why people are dissatisfied,” DeSantis said. “It’s like, ‘you came in and waged war on American energy production,’ you’ll take it from Maduro but you don’t want it being done here. So it’s been very difficult, and of course you’re going to see increases in gas prices. I think oil hit over $120 a barrel on sweet crude.”
DeSantis said the increase would translate to gas prices over $5 per gallon, calling it a huge burden on Americans, with the effects spread across multiple parts of the economy, from transport to supply chain.
“At the end of the day, prudence suggests, be prepared, make sure you can protect the folks and protect all our priorities, I think we’re well positioned to do that, and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done,” DeSantis said.
Commenting on the economy during a question and answer session, DeSantis said fuel costs would remain an issue for Americans.
“You have less supply overall, that’s going to be very hazardous. I think the thing that you would do out of Washington is just say ‘okay, the energy policy we put in in January of 2021,’ at the Biden administration, was wrong,” DeSantis said. “So just acknowledge that, reverse it, and really embrace a lot of American production. That would not necessarily change the supply overnight, but a lot of the fuel prices are forward-looking. So, if there was clear national commitment to utilizing domestic resources, and clear understanding that yes, it’s painful at the pump for people which is a huge issue. It’s also a national security issue that we’re not energy independent. And we were, better than we ever had been, a year-and-a-half ago. That is something that is going to continue to be an issue unless they do something about it.”
DeSantis also said Guthrie was working with utility companies to address potential issues with more of the municipal power companies to give them support to prepare for storms. He said it was something the Division of Emergency Management was looking into solutions.
Answering a question about subway development in Florida, DeSantis said it was less feasible and it would not have been a good use of taxpayer funds, calling development of an underground system in Florida “unlikely.”
He shifted to tourism and funding, referencing the record levels of visitors and tourism and how it played into infrastructure. DeSantis said there were some areas where traffic alleviation was a problem but the effect of traffic on the economy was impacting the ability to transport products and goods. Instead, he said creating a subway system was not something the state had done, thanked the USAR teams again before closing out the event.