The Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee has always been a powerful position in the Florida Legislature. But this year, the incoming chair, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-District 22), is facing a revenue shortfall estimated to be as high as $5.4 billion over the next two years, a balanced budget requirement and a lingering pandemic. Her leadership decisions will have an unprecedented impact on the State of Florida and its citizens.
Stargel said in an exclusive interview with The Capitolist she will lead the upcoming fight for state funding with honesty and empathy, but tough decisions will be made, and no project or program will be left off the table when it comes time to make the necessary budget cuts.
“We’re going to have to cut the budget which will be a challenge,” said Stargel, “but I think it can be done. And I think it’s a good exercise that people are doing, that businesses are doing, so it’s not inappropriate that government do the same thing.”
She said that the two areas that have the most need and affect the most people are education and healthcare. However, they are also the biggest budget drivers.
“So, we’re going to have to look at those,” she said.
She said there are also other areas of the budget with tight margins and little wiggle room for budget cuts, like the criminal justice system.
“But everything’s going to be on the table,” she said. “I’m looking for efficiencies. Frequently you get in a rut where this is the way you’ve always done something. There may be the possibility of do something in a different way that has the same outcome but it’s a more efficient way. So, I’ve been challenging everyone to look at those policy areas. Is there any way that we can assist you in making this a more efficient process, so it doesn’t cost as much money?”
Balancing the many personalities and agendas of the law makers is as much as a challenge as balancing the budget. She said this is an area where honesty, empathy and respect come into play.
“I think you have to come from the position that everybody’s doing what they think is best for the people of the State of Florida,” she explained. “I don’t know one person that I serve with that’s not up there doing what they think is best. Unfortunately, we don’t always agree on what that is. If you recognize that we’re all trying to do what we think is best, you just sit down and say, ‘OK, these are the differences. How can we work through those? Why do you think this policy is beneficial?’ I think people want to be heard and they want to be respected. I’ve tried to do that through the years. I think that’s what helps to make sure that we have a very collegial working environment, and we can come to some amical resolutions on how to solve some of the problems before us.”
“I believe we need to recognize that everyone is doing the best they can with the circumstances, that we have before us,” Stargel said. “If we all recognize that in each other, then we can all come together and solve the problem. We’re not self-serving. We’re not out here to do what’s best for me or best for you. We’re doing what’s best for the state of Florida. If we all come together on that purpose, we’re going to get through this and hopefully we’re going to have better days ahead.”
Stargel was elected to the Florida Senate in November 2012 after serving four years in the Florida House of Representatives. She currently works as the investment property manager for her family-owned small business in Lakeland. She has been married to Second District Court of Appeals Judge John Stargel for 37 years and has five children.
Stargel served as the Senate Deputy Majority Leader and as the Chair of the Finance and Tax Committee and the Vice Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. She previously served as a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, and others.