The recently passed $93 billon Florida state budget included some big wins for East Pasco, but District 38 state Rep. Randy Maggard isn’t ready to celebrate or take a victory lap just yet.
That’s because the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will force state lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session sometime this summer — and likely result in major spending cuts for budgeted programs and projects due to a shortfall in sales tax revenues.
“This virus, it’s just going to decimate our budget,” Maggard said, during an East Pasco Networking Group virtual conference meeting on April 13.
The Dade City Republican helped secure a total of $16.6 million in appropriations to be used in projects by Zephyrhills, Lacoochee, Pasco County and Saint Leo University. These projects include intersection improvements, establishing a new robotics program, and septic to sewage for a fast-growing part of our county.
But, the freshman lawmaker admitted he isn’t sure which, if any, of those projects could be on the chopping block a few months from now.
“The problem we’re in, we all don’t know what’s going to change on us,” Maggard said. “All the good things we accomplished may not last, so that’s what we are dealing with at the moment and just watching, because It’s unchartered waters for all of us.”
Aside from budgetary impacts, Maggard outlined other issues that have or could become the result of COVID-19.
One of the more well-documented issues surfaced is the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) having trouble managing the massive volume of people filing for unemployment benefit claims.
Maggard mostly defended the DEO — pointing out the system was never designed or could’ve anticipated such unemployment levels in a state with historically low unemployment.
The lawmaker explained the DEO would typically file more than 10,000 unemployment claims in a month. Now, the department is getting as many or more in a single day.
“I think you’ve gotta put it in perspective a little bit,” Maggard said. “Nobody expected this to happen and where it’s going. Nobody expected it in our unemployment part and in our small businesses and our restaurant businesses. I just feel so bad for them, because it’s devastating…so we’re working tirelessly to try to do the right things to get us through this as quick as possible.”
He added “99% of what I do daily now is trying to help people get unemployment claims and fight it through the system.”
Maggard touched on some other unintended consequences resulting from COVID-19.
He explained statewide stay-at-home orders have led to a rise in domestic violence, and strains on waste management, while consumer stockpiling has exposed a truck driver shortage and product supply chains.
Maggard also raised concerns of the risk of utility and electric companies being overwhelmed as “everybody’s staying home under A/C, 24/7…and we haven’t even hit the summer hot time yet.
“This virus has really compounded a lot of problems and shows us a lot of weaknesses and some of the things we thought we had set up and were foolproof,” he said, “but, the good thing is we’re learning from it, we’re going to get through it…and there’s a light at the end of the end of the tunnel.”
Maggard reflects on first year in office
Voters selected Maggard in a special election last June to become their next representative in District 38 of the Florida House of Representatives — filling the vacancy created by former Rep. Danny Burgess, who accepted an offer from Gov. Ron DeSantis to become the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Participating in his first 60-day regular legislative session “was absolutely one of the biggest honors of my life,” Maggard said, adding, “to be able to walk out on that chamber floor and realize you’re one of 2,700 people that ever stepped there, it gives you chills.”
Maggard spent 30 years as vice president of Sonny’s Discount Appliances in Dade City. He is a Pasco County native, attended Zephyrhills High School and holds an Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College (now known as Pasco-Hernando State College).
He underscored the significance of his new role.
“Every time we press a button, we affect 21 million people’s lives,” Maggard said, “and I take that very seriously.”
With that, stopping a bill is oftentimes more important than passing a bill, Maggard said, “because every time something is passed, something is taken away, there’s some kind of freedom affected.”
“I quickly learned that my job up there was to stop things — bad policies — more than it was trying to make good policy, so I did a lot of arguing, debating over that,” he said.
For Maggard, the job overall has been “like drinking from a fire hose” — in terms of the volume of tasks and issues that come across his desk regularly.
“When you’re running for office, you can’t really get prepared for all the amount of information that you need to use, and the people you need to see, and the work you have to do to be able to vote the right way for your citizens in Pasco,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maggard commended fellow state lawmakers for working together and across the aisle, as both the House and Senate unanimously approved the $93 billion state budget in March.
He highlighted the procurement of $690 million for water protection and restoration of the Everglades; $1.7 billion dollars for hurricane response; and, $17 billion for PreK-12 education funding, including $500 million for teachers pay raises, among others.
“The Republicans and Dems, we do have some differences,” he said, “but, we can sit down and have a breakfast, both sides, and talk and work something out, and I think that’s what good government’s supposed to be.
“We were called not to be politicians, but to be statesmen. I’m arguing for East Pasco, but somewhere in the middle there, we’ve gotta do what’s best for 21 million people.”
Published April 22, 2020