COVID-19 Relief for Seaports
The Ports Council had a teleconference with the Executive Office of the Governor (EOG) staff and FDOT Secretary Thibault. EOG staff included Chris Spencer (Policy Director EOG), Stephanie Kopelousos (Legislative Director EOG), and Mark Kruse (Transportation and Economic Development Policy Coordinator EOG). Discussion topics included the fiscal impact on Florida’s cruise ports and the ongoing impacts of the shut-down of the cruise industry in Florida.
Secretary Thibault has asked Ports Council staff to work with the Governor’s Office to develop another analysis of the impacts and work on potential short-term and long-term solutions. We remain hopeful that existing and potential federal dollars may become available, and that bonding legislation may be developed to also help offset financial hardships. Further discussed included the potential for continuing outreach efforts to work with the CDC to better understand when the cruise industry may begin operations in Florida.
At the federal level, staff continues to interact with our congressional delegation, U.S. House committee staff, Florida cruise and maritime organizations, and various other U.S. seaport organizations concerning the next round of COVID-19 relief funding. We continue to press for specific funding for seaports in any potential packages that Congress may pass in July.
We had a conference call with representatives from both Senator Rubio and Scott’s offices on Friday, June 26th. As stated in a separate email, they noted there was currently no consensus on the next round for COVID-19 relief and stated that they would work with us when a path forward on those efforts was presented. It appears that the Senate Republicans are waiting to follow the lead of Senate President McConnell and the President. Both Senator Scott and Rubio are not in favor of additional money to state and local governments based on their beliefs that some of those governments have not budgeted correctly. They did request any suggestions on what could be done today under existing federal programs (including Commerce or FEMA programs) or agency modifications to either the CARES Act funding or the Municipal Liquidity Fund. Together with our state leadership, we will push for a revision that allows for more flexibility in the use of those funds, including ensuring that all local government seaports have the ability to access any available funds.
We have had several discussions with House members as well, and the consensus there is that House leadership has passed the HEROES Act and is waiting on a response from the Senate and the President. The House continues to press for additional funding for state and local governments. We have stressed to our delegation members that language contained in the HEROES Act does not provide specific funding for U.S. seaports and needs additional language to ensure that seaports can obtain adequate relief. We are working with Congresswoman Wilson’s office on the potential of another video teleconference meeting of the Florida Ports Caucus.
Additionally, we are working with the AAPA and others on language that could be inserted into potential relief bills. The language would appropriate $1.5 billion to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to help seaports with lost revenue and other expenses due to COVID-19. We have expressed our support for this language to members of our delegation and will continue to work with AAPA and others on this issue.
The Florida Ports Council has received correspondence from the CDC based on our request to discuss and plan for the reopening of cruise passenger operations at Florida seaports. We received a letter that listed a variety of CDC regulations but did not address the “no-sail” order. We have discussed this letter with several port executives and members of the Florida Delegation. Both Senator Scott and Rubio have stated that they will work with us to obtain a meeting with CDC.
We have also talked with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) about their activity with the CDC and cruise lines on plans for resumption. They note that the lines have not heard back from the CDC on the resumption plans and they are continuing to work together to try and get a formal response from the CDC. As you know, the “no-sail” order expires on July 24th and the expectation is that the CDC will issue some type of extension soon that either matches the September 15th voluntary resumption date set by most cruise lines or extends past that date. We will work with CLIA and all of our seaports to respond properly to any new issuance by the CDC.
Governor DeSantis signed the state budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 on June 30th. The final budget totaled $92.2 billion, and the Governor vetoed more than $1 billion in individual projects. The State Transportation Trust Fund was kept intact at $9.2 billion, including the $123 million for seaport projects and programs in the following specific line items:
- Line Item 1920 — $15 million for debt reserve payments (FPFC 1996 Bond Refinance).
- Line Item 1921 — $10 million for debt reserve payments (FPFC 1999 Bond Refinance).
- Line Item 1922 — $88,110,883 for the FSTED Program, SIS, GM, SPII and other FDOT allocations in FDOT 5-Year Work
- Line Item 1923 — $10,095,000 for the Seaport Investment Program/Bond debt reserve
- Line Item 1925 — $74,438,222 for the FDOT Intermodal Development/Grants Program. This may or may not include some seaport
The more than $1 billion in vetoes included the $2 million for the Seaport Security Grant Program and the $300,000 for the Space Maritime Access Feasibility Study.
State House & Senate Candidates
Doug Wheeler and Mike Rubin participated in the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyist (FAPL) “virtual” Candidate Interviews with candidates seeking election to the state House and Senate. The interviews covered 6 regions around the state and included more than 60 candidates. These provide great opportunities for us to engage with potential legislators, especially considering we do not make political contributions. FPC staff contacted several candidates post-interview to provide contact information and offer to be a resource to them on issues around transportation, trade, and economic development.
Staff has submitted a letter of support for two Florida ports for the inclusion of expanding uses of advance maintenance authority in the current WRDA Reauthorization legislation. The limited policy change will enable both ports to maximize economic benefits and facilitate trade growth during this period of economic recovery.