This week Winter Haven joined a regional delegation of representatives to visit our elected officials in Tallahassee. Session started on March 3 and our state representatives and senators have just 60 days to submit their bills, vote, pass between houses and repeat before sending to the Governor’s desk.
Each year during Polk County Day numerous interest groups, from municipalities to universities to chambers to private business to non-profits descend on the capital to meet with our elected delegation and discuss their to priorities.
This year was the second year that the Winter Haven Chamber joined forces with the Lakeland Chamber to meet with the delegation as a “regional” group. We worked together throughout the last couple of months, discussing our agendas being developed by our Government & Legislative Affairs (GA) committees, and on Tuesday presented to the delegation as a united voice on many issues. That doesn’t mean our agendas are identical. We both have local issues specific to our community, but there are many issues that span beyond city borders, and we wanted our delegation to know that we were on the same page when it came to issues affecting our business community and our members. (I’d be lying if this cross-county cooperation didn’t elicit a few jokes about “pigs flying somewhere”, which just makes me even more proud of the cooperation). To view the legislative agenda developed by our GA committee, click here.
While in Tallahassee we were able to get an update on a recent study conducted by the research department at the Florida Chamber that focused on Florida residents and their priorities for this session.
The first question had to do with whether the respondents believe that the state is headed in the right or wrong direction. Of the respondents, 46 percent believe Florida is heading in the right direction, compared to 32 percent who say Florida is going in the wrong direction. In our specific media market (we are considered the Tampa media market) we are close to that at 48% right direction, 31% in the wrong direction.
Another question asked, “What is the top issue you are concerned about?” Statewide, the leading issue is jobs (22 percent), followed by education (17 percent) and healthcare (8 percent). In our media market, we ranked those issues similarly.
We also got some new data on Polk County form the Florida Chamber economic researchers on our projections for population and job growth. If these numbers don’t get you excited (and motivated to get our municipalities planning for the future) I don’t know what will. Think of this… Right now, 800-1,000 people move into Florida every day.
Right now the Polk County population is 636,056.
Within 5 years we are expected to be at 695, 128. An increase of 59,072.
And within 15 years we are expected to be at 801,555. An increase of 165,499 from where we are today.
Current unemployment in Polk County is at 6.1% We have 256, 315 people in the workforce.
If you take the projected population growth into consideration, in order to stay at the same level of unemployment we would need to create 31,707 net new jobs by 2020 and 70, 608 net new jobs by 2030.
Suffice it to say jobs are just one of the many things we need to think about with the projected growth in Florida. Another major topic of discussion this session is water. While meeting with Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, he posed the question (and I paraphrase), “How do we plan for the population growth and ensure we have enough water to meet that expanding population needs? While we are at a critical stage now, it’s important to plan before we hit a crisis stage.” The City of Winter Haven’s Natural Resource division has a sustainability plan, and so does the Southwest Florida Water Management District which is a plan called the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) that is the product of a 3-water management district partnership.
Healthcare is also a huge topic of debate. Shortly before session began, the state was looking at a surplus of over a billion dollars. Now, there is a possibility that the state budget for $2 billion in low income pool funding will be eliminated. According to an article in the Miami Herald, “[The Low Income Pool is a] $2 billion program which reimburses hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients [and it] is scheduled to expire on June 30. The state Agency for Health Care Administration is hoping to reach a deal with the federal government to keep the federal portion of the funding in place. [But] the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has made it clear that the program will not continue without significant changes.”
If the Low Income Pool funding goes away, that would impact the entire state budget.
It was a successful trip in my mind, with productive discussions on items such as the Central Polk Parkway, Enterprise Zones and more.
The process doesn’t stop there. Conversations will continue. We still have hundreds if not a thousand more bills to go!