CLEARWATER – The Clearwater City Council received an update on June 19 about what is happening in Tallahassee from State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg. Ahern is completing his second term representing District 51.
“It was probably my most productive session we’ve had in the four years I’ve been serving,” Ahern said of the session that recently ended. “Florida, I think, has turned the corner.”
Through a combination of low taxes, a lack of over-regulation, and increased government efficiency, Florida is luring high-tech companies away from other states, he said. He cited the example of Quest Diagnostics, which recently opened a large plant in Hillsborough County.
“We took $500 million out of our budget and put it back in the peoples’ pockets,” through such things as Back to School Days, when the sales tax is waived on such things as school supplies and even low-priced computers, Ahern told the council.
“One of the biggest winners was education,” which accounts for 27 percent of the state’s budget, he said. The amount spent annually on each student is now approaching $7,000, and the state has recently set aside $396 million for a voluntary kindergarten program for kids who want to get a taste of school before entering the mandatory first grade.
At the college level, the state has earmarked $200 million for a program for colleges to help their recent graduates get a job in their field of study and “not just a framed degree,” Ahern said.
Although the care of military veterans is primarily a federal obligation, the state of Florida is building its own veterans’ home to take some of the pressure off the beleaguered federal Department of Veterans Affairs and its Veterans Administration hospitals.
In the category of law enforcement, he said, the state is spending $1.9 billion to enhance police radio systems statewide and give a 5 percent raise to members of the Florida Highway Patrol. Ahern said that the state has recently passed a flood insurance plan that will be less expensive than the federal plan. He added that the new plan is expected to help the real estate business in Florida because high flood insurance premiums had been scaring potential buyers away from the state, and the lower rates will make it easier for sellers to sell their homes and for real estate agents to earn a living.
In addition to what it has spent on various projects, the state has set aside $3.1 billion “for a rainy day,” Ahern said.