Richter pledges his support for Sanibel issues in State Senate
Newly elected State Senator Garrett Richter (R-Dist. 37) pledged to the Sanibel City Council on Tuesday that he would advocate for issues of importance to the residents of the city at the upcoming legislative session.
Richter, who was elected to the District 37 seat recently vacated by Senator Burt Saunders, recently completed a two-year term in the State House of Representatives and said he welcomes the opportunity to serve in the Senate, where he believes he can make more of a difference.
Richter has been assigned to oversee the Banking and Insurance Committee, and has been assigned to serve on a number of additional senate committees as well.
With a special session being called to begin on Monday, Jan. 5, Richter said the Senate was wasting no time in getting down to the business of solving the budget crisis, where an expected $3 billion budget shortfall said that the issue of utmost importance to the state right now is the state of the economy and the expected $3 billion budget deficit that the state is now facing.
“There’s no money, if that’s what you’re looking for,” said Richter with a smile at the beginning of his presentation.“Well, we’re not looking for any money, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” replied Mayor Mick Denham, returning the smile.
Richter, who is the founder of the First National Bank of Florida, which has since merged with Fifth Third Bank, said a four-year no-compete clause executed upon sale of the bank is what sparked his interest in politics.
“My father’s motto was ‘Earn, Learn and Return,'” explained Richter of his interest in public service. “That’s what you all are doing here, and that’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Richter said that although he believes the environment is absolutely critical and important, especially in Sanibel, “We all must pay attention to the elephant in the room,” he said. “And that elephant is the economy.”
Making reference to a state budget shortfall that is projected by some experts to reach $3.8 billion, Richter said that state legislators are scrambling to address the critical situation once again.
“You can be assured that we’ll be looking under every rug, and in every corner,” said Richter of the Senate’s anticipated diligence in finding areas where expenses can be cut. “A balanced budget is a requirement of our constitution.”
Without a state income tax, the State of Florida must rely on sales, property and other taxes for revenues. With the economy in recession, Richter said, revenues from these tourist-driven taxes are falling faster than expenses can be cut.
“It’s a challenging time from a budgetary standpoint,” he added. “More is going out than is coming in.”
In response to questions from Council concerning measures that could have been taken to prevent this shortfall, or measures that could be taken in the future to prevent such deficits from happening again, Richter said that no one could have predicted with success the economic turnaround that has taken place in the past year.
“No one could have predicted that the pendulum would swing this far,” he said.
Denham said that the City’s interest in state affairs was rooted particularly in potential legislation that could either help or hurt Sanibel’s environment.
“We have a great interest in resurrecting the Healthy Beaches program,” said Denham. “We’d like you to watch for it.”
The initiative, which failed in the Senate after passing through the House during last year’s session, would require additional Department of Environmental Protection reporting to identify the source when water quality test results necessitated the closing of public beaches.
“It’s an important bill to us,” said Denham.
Another issue of importance to the City of Sanibel is the possible resurrection of a proposed Fertilizer Bill that contains pre-emptive language, said Denham.
“We understand it may come up again, and we’re concerned about that,” said Denham, adding that the City had no objection to the passage of legislation that would limit the use of harmful fertilizers in the State of Florida. “We opposed it because it had the preemption clause.”
The addition of a preemption clause to the bill would mean that less-stringent state regulations would take precedence over Sanibel’s already established, more stringent fertilizer rules.
“That’s not in the best interest of any citizen in Southwest Florida,” Denham added. Calling Sanibel “one of the greatest jewels in the world,” Richter
pledged to advocate on the city’s behalf for these issues.
“I understand the importance of these issues to the people of Sanibel,” he said.