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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT….The Capitolist: “Florida’s finances after a yearlong pandemic: Jimmy Patronis looks back, and ahead”

3/15/2021

For Immediate Release: Monday, March 15, 2021
Contact: Office of Communications, Communications@MyFloridaCFO.com, 850.413.2842

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT….
The Capitolist: “Florida’s finances after a yearlong pandemic: Jimmy Patronis looks back, and ahead”

“Florida’s finances after a yearlong pandemic: Jimmy Patronis looks back, and ahead”
The Capitolist 
Jordan Kirkland and Brian Burgess
March 12, 2021
To read the full story, click here.  

One year after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic washed over the world, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis revealed an inside look at the initial financial fears that gripped the state’s top money managers as they watched tourist revenue dry up virtually overnight. And he outlines Florida’s financial future as the state looks toward a return to normalcy.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Capitolist, Patronis gave an inside look at how his understanding of the pandemic evolved and how his thinking shifted in the pandemic’s earliest days. And he lavishes credit on state leaders and money managers who had the foresight to prepare for disaster.

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“As we started making the rounds, much like we do with hurricanes, we quickly realized what our country was on the verge of facing, and then the gravity set in on what that means for our economy that is so dependent on tourism,” Patronis said.
 “The problem we ran into was that people stopped flying into Orlando and Miami, which quickly had a snowball effect on adjacent businesses — like car rentals, hotels, and restaurants — resulting in layoffs that devastated Florida’s hospitality industry.”

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Patronis, who came from a small business background before embarking on a 15-year career in public service, says he embraces his role overseeing the state’s finances.
“I get excited about holding people accountable and watching over the people’s money,” Patronis said. “There’s a lot of things that we do that people don’t realize: we balance the state’s checkbook — we got three of them — we balance them every night. The legislature passes a budget, the money comes to us, and as the legislature executes how those dollars should be spent, we cut those checks.”
In addition to crediting Governor Ron DeSantis‘s decision to keep the economy open, Patronis lauded the state’s money managers that he helps oversee on the state Cabinet. A combination of sound investment choices and previous decisions by state leaders to pay down debt gave Florida the financial flexibility to make the most out of federal aid. While other states, like New York, which racked up a $15 billion budget shortfall, Florida, by contrast, has a balanced budget requirement and it paid off last year.
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Then there were additional economic benefits that few saw coming. Patronis again credited DeSantis for being willing to take criticism over his decision to keep the economy open.

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Patronis also credited Ash Williams, who serves as chief investment officer for the Florida State Board of Administration, for his role in working with the CFO’s office to make sure they were doing everything possible to protect pensions that retirees depend on.

“When you saw the stock market tank the way it did, we had weekly calls with Ash Williams who monitors our investments. We have a very diverse portfolio, our pension fund stands at over $180 billion, and we pay out over 600 million in benefits every month,” Patronis noted. “Part of managing a business is working with your management team and leadership to find out what’s happening with people’s dollars that they depend on for retirement, and those were the factors that we were constantly asking that team about.”

“There’s a great team over there, and Williams’s experience dealing with economic crises is what allows Florida to have a pension funded at 86 percent.”

The CFO also lavished praised on state lawmakers who wisely bolstered the state’s so-called “rainy day fund” as the pandemic began to hit.

“The state’s ‘budget stabilization fund’ sits at 1.4 billion, and is there in case we need to stabilize the state’s budget,” said Patronis. “Sometimes that’ll get adjusted by the legislature as it did last year when it passed a $93 billion budget in 2020, leaving $3 billion unobligated. Thanks to their wisdom to not encumber it, that $3 billion that they chose not to spend helped cashflow the state during the downturn.”

During the interview, Patronis repeatedly gave credit for Florida’s financial success through the pandemic to both DeSantis and his predecessor, now U.S. Senator Rick Scott, whom Patronis said handled business recruitment and fiscal responsibility so well. One of Scott’s top priorities as governor was to pay down state debt.

“You had eight years of Governor Rick Scott attacking debt in the state. Governor DeSantis inherited a good economy, before meeting his first real financial test last year,” Patronis said. “And what does Governor DeSantis do? He vetoes a billion dollars, making it clear that Florida would live within its means.”

“I look at what Governor Scott had created, and I look how Governor DeSantis didn’t squander it, and I think this is good for outside corporate America to see how our good leadership structure allowed businesses to do what they need to do,” he continued. “That makes them change their mind from continuing to do business in New York and considering moving to Florida.

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About CFO Jimmy Patronis 
Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis is a statewide elected official and a member of Florida’s Cabinet who oversees the Department of Financial Services. CFO Patronis works each day to fight insurance fraud, support Florida’s firefighters, and ensure the state’s finances are stable to support economic growth in the state. Follow the activities of the Department on Facebook (FLDFS) and Twitter (@FLDFS).