State Rep. Randy Maggard made a special appearance at a Zephyrhills City Council meeting last month — updating constituents on issues that included state budget cuts, the COVID-19 pandemic, return-to-school plans and more.
During his talk, Maggard, who represents District 38 in the Florida House of Representatives, bluntly said East Pasco was fortunate to secure state funding for two projects.
Those projects survived, while other projects fell by the wayside as a result of $1 billion in budget cuts, achieved through line-item vetoes by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The governor made those cuts because state revenues were lower than expected, due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
The approved $92.2 billion budget, however, does include about $5.5 million for the Lacoochee industrial area right of way improvements and about $2.3 million for intersection improvements at U.S. 301/Pretty Pond and Medical Arts Court.
“We’re just happy to get what we did,” Maggard said. “At the end of the day, we felt we fared well compared to most (other districts).”
Other budget wins in Maggard’s book included the $500 million to increase teacher salaries across the state and the approval of the most comprehensive water bill in Florida history. That water bill includes: $322 million for Everglades Restoration; $50 million for springs restoration; $160 million for targeted water quality improvements; $40 million for alternative water supply; and, $25 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide.
Maggard said he hopes the state doesn’t need to undergo yet another round of budget cuts due to COVID-19, hurricane season or some other setback. Luckily, state reserves could help withstand some expected shortfalls, he said.
Maggard said the Legislature’s foresight to build up a reserve in the past has come in handy now.
He added: “What we’re praying is that we don’t have a bad hurricane season. Just having another knockout punch would not be good for our economy, and that’s what we’re concerned about, at the time.”
On the COVID-19 front, Maggard acknowledged the pandemic “just seems to be dragging on,” but noted a sliver of a silver lining.
The positivity rates for COVID-19 through Florida have hovered in the 10% range to 12% range, while experiencing marked decreases is some instances.
Maggard said Florida made headlines across the country when it recorded nearly 15,300 new coronavirus cases on July 12. That set a national record for any one-day period.
What media outlets failed to mention, Maggard said, is about 142,900 people were tested — representing a positivity rate of about 10.7%.
A few days before that, the state had reported 11,343 positive COVID-19 cases among 93,500 tests — correlating with a higher positivity rate of 12.1%, he said.
“It was a big number that dropped, but we’re testing more,” Maggard said, regarding the July 12 report.
“If you look at just the pure numbers, you would think, ‘Wow, this thing is spreading worse, and we’re in trouble,’” he said.
But, when “you look at it percentage-wise,” he said, “it’s not growing like the numbers sometimes show.”
And, that, he said, represents “a little bit of good news.”
The freshman lawmaker added the “largest spread” of the coronavirus comes from Florida bars and small breweries, so temporarily closing down those institutions was “just something that had to be done,” he said.
He also acknowledged the economic impact the decision had.
“It is affecting small business, and we understand that,” he said.
Maggard also emphasized the importance of mask wearing and social distancing: “If you talk to your doctor, they will tell you. If we can just keep that practice, we can get over this hurdle, we really can just get it to stop. I think we can get out of this mess, and then we just need to pray for a shot like we do for the flu, then I’ll think a lot of this will just go away.”
On the much-debated topic of return-to-school plans, Maggard assured state leaders are studying “the smartest way” to handle an ever-changing situation, adding decisions are “based on science and numbers, and not emotion.”
However, he added there’s been “overwhelming” support to reopen brick-and-mortar school campuses for the 2020-2021 school year, particularly among Florida high schoolers.
“It’s funny, the majority of high school students we’ve reached out to are like, ‘Yeah, we want to go back to school,’” Maggard said. “Maybe staying at home with parents is not as fun as it used to be at the time; high school students are definitely for it.”
He also addressed one of the more well-documented issues that surfaced early in the wake of COVID-19: the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s difficulty in managing the massive volume of unemployment benefit claims.
Many of those problems have been resolved, Maggard said.
“There’s some people out there we’re still dealing with, but overall that number’s dropping, which has been good for us,” he said.
Published August 05, 2020