South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
The seas are inexorably rising, and the Florida Legislature is tackling this by creating a Resilient Florida Grant Program in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The bill creating the program, Senate Bill 1954, passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Gov. Ron DeSantis should sign it.
At stake for South Florida are millions of dollars for sea walls, storm hardening and other infrastructure projects that will better prepare us to tackle a future in which we endure increased flooding, stronger storms and higher seas.
The program handles resiliency infrastructure in a traditional Republican manner by doling out block grants to cities and counties, subject to state appropriations.
Democrats won’t like how the Legislature has chosen to fund these grants — by making permanent its annual tradition of raiding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, sending much of the money set aside for housing to instead address the effects of climate change.
Still, given that the Republican-controlled Legislature has been using affordable housing money to shore up the budget in almost every year since the Great Recession, dedicating that money to fighting climate change is a positive step.
The funding mechanism is the subject of another bill, Senate Bill 2512, which has passed in a far more partisan manner, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats no. While both sides can disagree on the funding source, all agree that the state must address this issue, and SB 1954 is an excellent approach.
Colin Polsky, director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies, said that while he had not carefully analyzed the bill, “on the face of it, this legislation appears to position Florida at the forefront of U.S. states institutionalizing serious adaptation actions. … So if this bill lives up to its billing, then the blurring of blue versus red on climate in Florida will have taken a quantum leap forward, in a good direction, in my opinion.”
More money for resiliency projects is on the way, and just as both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida Legislature supported SB 1954, both sides should also support these projects that could be paid for by the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan.
On April 12, just four days after the Florida Senate passed SB 1954, sending it to DeSantis, the White House released state-by-state numbers as part of its American Jobs Plan that highlighted bridges and roads in each state in poor condition, the percentages of households without access to broadband, the number of extreme weather events and other metrics.
Florida experienced 22 extreme weather events from 2010-2020 at a cost of $100 billion. Only Texas, California and Hawaii were hit with larger bills due to extreme weather, and in the cases of Texas and Hawaii, the number of events — 67 and 145, respectively — dwarfed Florida’s.
Extreme weather, like sea-level rise, will only become a bigger threat as climate change takes its toll on the planet. The Biden administration has set aside $50 billion specifically for resilient infrastructure.
This time around, it’s Republicans who won’t like the funding source, as the administration intends to raise corporate tax rates from 21% to 28%, which would still be below the highest corporate tax rates prior to the 2017 Trump tax cut.
For years, Republicans have maintained that sharp cuts in federal income and corporate taxes would pay for themselves, as more money remained in the hands of consumers and businesses. This has not happened. Worse, this wrongheaded dogma has caused the past two Republican presidential administrations to borrow vast amounts to enact massive tax cuts, sending the federal government into the sort of sky-high deficits that the party claims to loathe when it derides “tax and spend” liberals.
To that, we say, at least the liberals have the right order of things. Tax, then spend. Cutting taxes and then spending just as much has never made much sense.
Just as Democrats in the Florida Legislature can approve of a Republican plan to create a resiliency infrastructure program centered on block grants while disapproving the funding source, so too should Republicans in Washington be able to support the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan while taking a dim view of tax increases, as the party always has.
What everyone should agree on — what they should all be able to work together on, as the Florida Legislature did in unanimously passing SB 1954 — is that this spending is needed, now. A 2020 report by the Urban Land Institute found that for every dollar spent now on adapting to the effects of climate change in South Florida, the region would save $2 in the long run. In other words, it costs a lot more to repair than it does to prepare.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.