TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — While speaking at an event in Destin with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gov. Ron DeSantis hit a few frequent talking points before talking about the state’s fishing industry.
Some of the governor’s comments were focused on the state’s budget surplus, and others more focused on the ongoing inflation facing the nation.
“We’re fortunate in Florida, we’ve got a lot going on in the state, obviously a lot of people want to visit,” DeSantis said. At the Boardwalk, “I don’t know specifically with this restaurant, but I know people have done fantastic here, particularly over the last two years. This is one of the places you could come, I remember summer of 2020, you could actually be normal in Northwest Florida. People from all over the country would come, it was really really exciting. I know people had a great 2021, we’re doing well in 2022. Our state has, we have more jobs than we did pre-COVID. We have a lot of openings too. If you look at our budget, this current fiscal year budget is $101.5 billion, the fiscal year ends June 30.”
The proposed budget has yet to be signed off officially by the governor. He has mentioned in previous comments that he was still reviewing the line items, but did announce a few community projects that he had already greenlit.
“To put that in perspective, New York is the closest to us in population, they have 3 million fewer people, and yet their budget is over twice the size of ours, very bloated. We have better infrastructure and roads and services, higher performing K-12 schools, No. 1 rated public university system. But we’re doing that with no income tax and the lowest per capita tax burden,” DeSantis continued. “We don’t know the exact numbers right now because the revenue still comes in and it’s coming in above estimate every month, but by June 30, we’ll know for this fiscal year, you know our budget surplus may end up being about $20 billion, out of $101.5 billion.”
While the state surplus is high, it’s important to note that budget levels are as they are due to a combination of factors, including both the state’s strong economy and funds provided by both U.S. Congress as COVID-19 relief programs under both former President Donald Trump and his successor, President Joe Biden.
“We’ve never had anything that big in Florida. As we look forward, we want to be good fiscal stewards, but it is prudent to make sure that you have adequate reserves. I’m, quite frankly, concerned and worried about Biden plunging us into a recession,” DeSantis said, circling back to the national economy and inflation. “If you look at what he did when he came in, decided to print trillions and trillions of dollars, and the result of that’s been the worst inflation we’ve seen in this country in four decades. It’s killing people across the board to have to pay so much for gasoline, have to pay so much for bills, have to pay so much for food.”
While it’s true that once entering office, Biden pushed for trillions of dollars of additional spending for COVID-19 relief and infrastructure needs, his predecessor Trump also allowed trillions under his own COVID-19 initiatives, passed in 2020 when the pandemic began. Still, inflation remains at historic highs, a fact DeSantis has critiqued since Biden took office, as prices rose month after month.
“They say it’s 8.5%, but if you look at what matters, it’s gone up way more than that. That’s what you’re dealing with. They said it wouldn’t happen. Then they said it was just a blip, and now they’re trying to blame Putin, but it’s been going up for over a year,” DeSantis said. “This is a real problem, and I think the fear is, what, they’re going to do monetary policy, some of this other stuff is going to put a real hamper on the economy potentially.”
As stated in previous coverage, comments by the governor on inflation “not being” just the 8.5% price increase is somewhat of a misnomer. The inflation rate is drawn in reports by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by aggregating and averaging inflation overall. This means that while individual items and products have different levels of inflation, and some have in fact reduced in price month-by-month, the overall increase across the economy is 8.5% higher than the year before.
In that respect, while DeSantis is correct that inflation is “putting a hamper” on the economy, it isn’t fully accurate to say the 8.5% inflation is wrong. Multiple factors have added to cost increases, and while part of it is due to domestic factors, the global supply chain during COVID-19, and now during the Russia-Ukraine conflict have also contributed to the high inflation, particularly when it comes to metal, wheat, gasoline and oil, and other grain and animal products, such as dairy and eggs. The budget surplus will help the state, but the exact impact on Florida consumers has yet to be explicitly defined.
“I think Florida is well positioned, we can withstand some of that turmoil, we’ve been fortunate to draw a lot of investment, but the reality is if you look two or three years out, there’s a not insignificant chance that Biden plunges us into a recession,” the governor said. “So, we’re prepared, if we had, if we have problems on the revenue side, years in advance, we have the ability to plug that immediately. I think that’s the prudent way to do it, that you have the type of reserves necessary to sustain the state if you have to deal with some of these things.
Talking about COVID, DeSantis repeated his policy that mandates should not exist. The question came after a Florida-based federal judge in Tampa voided the current mask mandate. The Biden administration has since issued an appeal to the ruling, through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
DeSantis has previously called the airplane rules a farce.
“There should be no mandates, period, none. And I think the airline mandate, to me, is the most cruel. Because, if you go back to the beginning of COVID, I actually thought, hey an airline because you’re in a cylinder, that might be really risky to be there. But the way they have the air filtration, you just don’t have outbreaks on the airplanes. And that was whether they were wearing masks or not. So you have no masks in most of society, which is obviously really good, and yet they keep clinging to this forcing people on an airplane to wear it,” DeSantis said in response to a question about the airline mandate. “And the thing is, you’ll have somebody sitting in an aisle seat and they will put the mask down and fake nibble on peanuts for two hours so they don’t have to have it covering, so they can breathe freely. And it’s all a charade, I understand why they do it, because I’d want…but then someone’s right next to them, and they just want to breathe freely and read a magazine, somehow that’s a big problem? So, this is COVID theater, but what it is is they are trying to prolong the misery that these flight attendants have had to deal with.”
“Did you see the flight attendants were crying they were so happy when they repealed, when the judge ruled that they didn’t have to be forced masks all day when they’re in the airplanes. Most of the passengers were having a great time, saying what a relief it was,” DeSantis said. “And so when you see that and you realize there’s no real data behind this, why would you then try to appeal this, which is basically just trying to reimpose the mandates which are prolonging the misery for people? So, I think it would be totally outrageous, if they appeal this decision, I think they have decided they are going to do it, I don’t think they’re going to seek an immediate stay, which I think would be worse, you’re going to have this decision in effect, people are not going to be wearing a mask, but if they win this appeal, you’re could reinstitute it somewhere down the line? That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I think we’ve just gotta get beyond this, but it does go to ‘why are they doing this?'”
The governor has been a hardline opponent to any and all mandates by the U.S. government regarding masks and vaccinations. DeSantis and state Attorney General Ashley Moody recently announced a lawsuit targeting the mask mandates for travelers, weeks before the order was supposed to end. While the lawsuit progresses, the CDC extended the mandate, it was voided in court. In his comments on the mandate issue, the governor repeated previous points about his belief that the mandates are more about control than public health.
“I think part of the reason they’re doing it is because they like to exercise power over the people that they govern. They like to be able to take these decisions out of your hands and force a mask on your face. Force kids to muzzle, force people to lose their jobs if they don’t’ take a COVID vax, all of the things they done to use the coercive power of the state to take away your freedoms over the last two years,” DeSantis said. “And there’s a reason why we’re known as the free state of Florida. Because we never muzzled you, in Florida. We never imposed a mask mandate in this state. We made sure kids were in school five days a week. All the way back in 2020, when no other major states were doing that.”
DeSantis highlighted the state’s efforts to keep businesses and schools open, and continued speaking about current policies and legislation to do so.
“We made sure everyone could work, that businesses like this could operate, and we said nobody should lose their job based on these jobs. You have a right to work and they can’t force you to do it, and the same thing about going out and living in society. other parts of our country you have to show medical papers just to be able to go into a restaurant and have a meal,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, we banned that. There’s a reason why we led the nation in domestic tourism in 2021, why we even beat New York in foreign tourism, and why we’ve never had such a strong year for domestic. It’s treating people with respect, protecting their freedoms, letting them make their own decisions, not constantly badgering them with different types of restrictions and mandates.”
In final remarks in Destin, DeSantis said he thought so-called “lockdown politicians” would pull back from the pro-mandate rhetoric until election season was over in November for the coming midterms, then return to pushing those policies. He said “they will absolutely” do it again if reelected, and urged voters to choose lawmakers that would not. The governor ended the event with a final promise.
“The only way to be sure that it doesn’t happen again is to not elect anybody who embraces those policies,” DeSantis said. “So I can tell you in Florida, with me in this chair? Your freedoms are protected.”