Here’s some news nuggets from the past few days you might have missed…
Lawmakers fly caution flag on state budget
State budget leaders in Florida have cautioned that general-revenue surpluses are expected to decline from $7 billion in the 2024-2025 fiscal year to $2.72 billion by 2026-2027. The warning comes as the Joint Legislative Budget Commission discusses long-term financial outlooks and preparations for the 2024 legislative session. Despite the declining surpluses, officials like House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek and Senate Appropriations Chairman Doug Broxson believe the state is “in good shape.” The Commission authorized over $1.55 billion for the Department of Transportation’s multi-year road projects. They also discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, which hit Florida’s agricultural sector but is expected to be less costly than last year’s Hurricane Ian. Economists have added $2.77 billion to general-revenue tax projections for the current and next fiscal year, although they warn of possible structural imbalances and pressures from an aging Baby Boomer population.
Health care a front-burner issue next legislative session
House Speaker Paul Renner announced the formation of the House Select Committee on Health Innovation, aimed at examining access and affordability in the health care sector. Chaired by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, the committee seeks to address Florida’s growing health care demands. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo echoed the urgency, pointing to a lack of sufficient health-care providers in the state. In addition to health care, Renner also revived the Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency & Recovery, led by Majority Leader Michael Grant, following the recent impact of Category 3 Hurricane Idalia on North Florida. The 2024 legislative session is set to begin on January 9, with initial subcommittee meetings scheduled for September 19.
Latvala ethics case dismissed
The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed a long-running complaint against former State Senator Jack Latvala, once a powerful Florida political figure, due to two key witnesses declining to testify. The ethics complaint, filed in December 2017, alleged that Latvala had sexually harassed a Senate aide and also had a sexual relationship with a lobbyist with business before Latvala. An attorney for the commission, Elizabeth Miller, recommended the case’s dismissal because, without the witness testimony, the complaint relied on inadmissible hearsay. Some commission members objected to the dismissal anyway, saying they found the allegations egregious. Latvala, a former Florida Senate appropriations chairman, resigned in December 2017 after a special master recommended a criminal probe into his conduct. He was ultimately not charged with any crimes.
Higher costs trigger early stampede to book holiday travel
Floridians are wasting no time in preparing for the upcoming holiday season, with a recent AAA survey revealing that 61% of residents are already in the process of planning their holiday vacations. Notably, 57% of these early birds are attributing their proactive approach to higher travel prices. The survey also indicates that a significant 68% of holiday travelers intend to include at least one flight in their holiday plans. Thanksgiving seems to be a popular choice, as 55% of Florida travelers are gearing up for trips involving overnight stays during the holiday, with a substantial 40% looking to secure their Thanksgiving travel arrangements in September. While Christmas plans are progressing at a more measured pace, with only 12% having finalized their plans, a considerable 21%, 28%, and 26% will wait until September, October, and November, respectively, to book their Christmas getaways. [Read AAA’s full survey results here]
Just as forecasters always predicted (but the media tried to hide)
Hurricane Lee remains a non-factor for the United States mainland. The storm remains a significant category 3 hurricane, currently situated about 650 miles southeast of Bermuda, but it appears increasingly likely to steer well clear of the United States mainland. Despite its formidable winds of 120 mph and its capacity to produce hazardous surf and rip currents along the southeastern U.S. coast, current forecasts indicate that the storm is gradually moving northwest and is expected to turn north and then northeast by midweek. However, as it gets closer to the New York media market, expect national news outlets to be full of more hot, moist air than the storm itself.