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State of the State: Governor Touts Florida as a "Refuge of Freedom and Sanity"; Slams New York, Illinois and California

Florida - Tuesday January 9, 2024: Governor Ron DeSantis this morning delivered his State of the State address to the legislature which began its 2024 Session today.

The Governor, in Presidential campaign mode after flying in from Iowa, began his speech by slamming the State of the Nation, New York, Illinois, and California came in for special criticism. He went on to touted the State of Florida, saying Florida has become a "refuge of freedom and sanity."

“My message is simple: Stay the course," said the Governor. "The state of our state is strong. Let’s keep doing what works.” The Governor flew back to Iowa this afternoon to resume his presidential campaign. The Iowa caucuses will be held January 15th.

Democrats criticized DeSantis' speech, saying it was targeted to Iowa voters, rather than addressing current needs at home, like skyrocketing property insurance rates and the lack of affordable housing.

“There were no new ideas. It was a rehash of his greatest hits," said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell. "When he opened up his remarks, I was wondering ‘When is he ever going to talk about Florida?'"

CLICK HERE to VIEW the Governor's State of the State address.

READ the Governor's State of the State Address in FULL below:

Mr. Speaker, Madam President, members of the Legislature, and fellow citizens:

We are in the midst of a great upheaval throughout the nation:

Under the Biden administration, homelessness is at record levels, 62 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the federal budget deficit is expected to hit $2 trillion this year.

More than eight million illegal aliens have entered the United States across the southern border in the past three years alone, and deaths due to fentanyl that has come across the border have reached record levels.

Cities throughout the land have decayed: Washington, D. C. has experienced its deadliest year in more than two decades and San Francisco has fallen into a “doom loop” whereby crime, homelessness and drug abuse have eviscerated the quality of life.

Other states have enacted policies that have sparked an exodus of residents out of their states:

In Illinois, residents are saddled with high taxes, while spendthrift politicians continue to spend and borrow at some of the highest rates in the nation – with massive unfunded liabilities that will require even higher taxes in the future. Of course, soft-on-crime policies have devastated public safety in Chicago.

California’s per capita spending is triple our state’s, and they now face a $68 billion budget deficit. Violent crime is up, robberies are up, and a recent Stanford University study shows that businesses are leaving in droves.

Florida now has millions more residents than New York, yet New York’s budget is twice the size of Florida’s. They have a $4.3 billion budget deficit. Florida now has more manufacturing jobs than New York, and added twice as many jobs as New York in the past year, and our unemployment rate is 1.4 percentage points lower.

It is not surprising that we have witnessed – and continue to witness – a great migration of Americans away from cities and states pursuing these failed policies, with Florida serving as a refuge for freedom and sanity.

The failures are not a result of chance but of choices made by elected officials to put ideology over sound policy.

In this time for choosing, Florida has chosen well.

We have chosen facts over fear.

Education over indoctrination.

Law and order over rioting and disorder.

Fiscal responsibility over debt and profligacy.

Our choices have produced results that are second to none:

#1 in education.

#1 in education freedom.

#1 for parental involvement in education.

#1 for talent development.

#1 for higher education.

#1 for net domestic in-migration for the third consecutive year.

#1 in new business formation.

#1 in GDP growth among large states, and better than most countries in the world.

#1 for entrepreneurship.

We have set the standard for limited government: Florida has the fewest state employees per capita and the lowest state government cost per capita.

Florida’s crime rate is at a 50-year low.

And we have the lowest unemployment rate of all large states.

The 2023 Legislative Session was monumental, and it is incumbent upon us to build upon those accomplishments as we continue to deliver results.

My message is simple: stay the course. The state of our state is strong. Let’s keep doing what works. Let’s continue to make Florida the envy of the nation.

We lead the nation in school choice.

Last session, under the leadership of Speaker Renner, we enacted the largest expansion of school choice in American history.

Florida has close to 1.5 million students enrolled full-time in various choice programs – from private scholarships to charter schools to choice options within school districts.

Through these programs, we have delivered for people like Hera Varmah. Hera has 11 brothers and sisters, making education hard to afford for their parents, but, because of our school choice scholarships, she and her siblings have been able to attend high-quality schools.

Today, she is a college graduate, her three older brothers are college graduates, two of her younger sisters are in college, and the rest are on track to follow in her footsteps.

As she likes to say in her own words “When people say that school choice doesn’t work, I simply show them my family.”

We also lead the nation in protecting the rights of parents.

School systems are important, but they exist to serve the students, parents and the community, not to supersede the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

We were one of the first states to enact a Parents’ Bill of Rights and curriculum transparency.

We protected women’s sports – as the father of two daughters I think it is important that they have the opportunity to compete with fairness and integrity.

We protected our children from indoctrination and sexualized curriculum, and we stood up for parents against the woke mob.

This includes parents like Tia Bess, a mom of three who has fought for her children to be educated without having an agenda imposed on them.

We must always protect the innocence of our children. Let kids be kids!

As we deliver win after win for parents, we have also provided historic support for our teachers.

Over the past four years, we have invested a record three billion dollars to raise teacher pay. My budget proposal for this year includes another $1.25 billion for even more pay increases.

Our teacher pay initiatives help us recruit and retain great teachers, including Teacher of the Year Adrianna Swearingen who is with us today.

It is thanks to teachers like Adrianna that our 4th graders are first in the nation on their NAEP scores.

On October 7th, Israel suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in modern history. We knew the effects would reverberate here in Florida.

Many Floridians were stranded in Israel after the war broke out and were not receiving adequate assistance from the US embassy or the State Department, so we stepped up by organizing evacuation flights to bring Floridians home.

Allison Zur, her husband and two children were on one of those flights out of Israel and have joined us here today.

But we didn’t stop there. With your help, we called a Special Session of the Legislature at the first opportunity to pass expanded sanctions on Iran – who were clearly behind the heinous attacks.

As threats of violence continued here at home, we stood up to protect our Jewish Day Schools, synagogues and Jewish students on university campuses.

But we realize that many universities outside of Florida have failed.

This week, Jewish students across the country are returning to campuses that have condoned antisemitism.

Over the coming months, they will have a tough decision to make – pack up and leave or stay and endure continued hatred – and if they do decide to come to Florida, we will welcome them with open arms.

This includes waiving minimum credit hour requirements for transfers, waiving application deadlines for transfers, and encouraging universities and colleges to use their existing statutory authority to provide in-state tuition for students with a financial hardship.

The pro-Hamas activities and rampant antisemitism on college campuses exposed the intellectual rot that has developed on so many college campuses.

In Florida, our universities must be dedicated to the pursuit of truth, the promotion of academic rigor and integrity, and the preparation of students to be citizens of our republic.

We reject the modern trend of universities that subordinate high academic standards in favor of promoting an ideological agenda.

To this end, we have eliminated so-called DEI from our public universities. DEI is a highly-ideological agenda – in practice it stands for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination – and it has no place in our public universities.

We have also overhauled faculty hiring to avoid ideological litmus tests and required all tenured professors to undergo review every five years so poor performers can be terminated.

JT Leanos is a freshman and baseball player at New College in Sarasota, which is well on its way to being the premier classical public liberal arts college in America.

The reforms instituted by the New College board of trustees and by President Richard Corcoran have transformed the college from an outpost of ideological indoctrination into an institution rooted in truth.

We have ensured that higher education in Florida is affordable – freezing tuition for the past decade. We also have supported Bright Futures scholarships that make it even more affordable for our top students.

While higher education is important, a degree from a four-year brick-and-ivy university is not the only path to success – and for many, it is not the best path to success. When I took office in 2019, I set the goal to make Florida #1 in workforce education by 2030, and with the support of the Legislature, we are well on our way:

Since 2019, Florida students have earned more than 365,000 rapid credentials, and just last year, more than 235,000 students earned an industry certificate before they graduated high school;

We have more than tripled our state’s capacity to train truck drivers with a CDL license, and this year set a record for CDL program completion; and

We have now set a record of 229,000 students enrolled in career and technical education programs at Florida colleges.

There is no question that on this trajectory Florida will soon be #1 in workforce education!

The recklessness of spending, borrowing and printing of money over the past four years by the federal government has driven up the costs of everything from groceries to housing – and has saddled Americans with high interest rates. The national debt now stands at $34 trillion dollars.

In NYC, there is a famous debt clock that shows the national debt going up in real time. I’d like to see one of those made for Florida’s debt – only a Florida debt clock would be counting down, not up, because we have paid down nearly 25% of our state’s debt over the past five years.

Americans’ share of national debt: $100k

Floridians’ share of state debt: $661

We are able to reduce debt because we have been fiscally responsible but also because we have embraced smaller government. Florida has the lowest number of state employees per capita at 96 per 10,000 (82 full time), and the lowest cost per state resident at $40.

This year, my budget proposal reduces the budget by $4 billion from the previous year, placing $16.3 billion in reserves and paying down another $455 million in state debt ahead of schedule.

We have run budget surpluses and paid down debt while also enacting record-setting tax reductions, and even with these tax savings given to our residents, we have brought in $1.3 billion over projections since the start of the fiscal year.

Last year I asked the Legislature to reduce taxes on families as a way to mitigate the effects of the federal government-induced inflation, and you delivered.

We have made it tax free to raise a child in Florida by permanently removing taxes on baby items – cribs, strollers, diapers, baby wipes, clothing, and children’s shoes, among other items.

We also provided relief for Florida commuters. The Toll Relief Program reduced commuter costs by $470 million, helping nearly 1.2 million Floridians save as much as $400 each.

Mike Honeycutt who joined us here today is the Founder and Owner of Jet I.C.U., an air ambulance company that recently relocated to Tampa from Hernando County.

Since their business moved, Mike and many of his employees are still commuting to Tampa while in the process of relocation.

Mike has taken on the burden of paying not only his tolls, but the tolls of his staff as well, and through our toll relief program, he has saved $3,936.

In the Governor’s budget recommendations, I am proposing that we return $1.1 billion to the people through sweeping tax cuts that will provide even more relief to families, individuals, and retirees just trying to get by during these uncertain times.

Let’s reduce the cost of homeowners insurance, continue our record-setting sales tax holidays, and provide permanent tax relief for small businesses.

In D.C. they are failing to get inflation under control, and while we cannot control federal monetary policy here in Florida, we can take what is already one of the lowest per-capita tax burdens in the country and make our taxes even lower.

Our low tax burden, AAA credit rating and great business environment have attracted families, businesses and retirees alike, but so too has the fact that Florida is the law and order state.

Our policies to support law enforcement officers, eliminate riots, keep criminals off the streets, and remove lawless prosecutors from office have kept Florida at a 50-year crime low and have brought new law enforcement recruits to Florida from all 50 states.

Law enforcement officers like Rachel Richardson.

Officer Richardson left her home in Illinois to come to Florida for a new career with the Venice Police Department.

She wanted to work for a state that valued the difficult work police officers do every day to protect and serve. Officer Richardson, welcome to Florida.

My budget proposal for this year includes $20 million to bring even more officers to the Sunshine State.

To help our police officers achieve their dreams of home ownership while here, we also created the Hometown Heroes program.

Recipients of this program include Detective Frank Jones.

In 2020, when the “Defund the Police” movement was at its peak, Detective Jones moved from Chicago to Collier County to work in a state where he would be respected and supported.

Thanks to our Hometown Heroes program, Detective Jones was able to achieve his dream of home ownership.

And thanks to the leadership of President Passidomo through the Live Local Act and record housing funding, countless police officers (as well as other staples of the community like teachers and nurses) will now be able to live in the communities they serve.

Still, with all our successful efforts to provide law and order, the impacts of the Biden administration’s open border policies have made their way to Florida.

Here today is Bryan Ramos, who was the victim of a hit and run that tragically also took the life of his friend Nico Bagalihog at the age of 28. The driver who ran over Bryan and Nico was an illegal alien, and when the suspect was arrested by FHP, they found he had been previously deported three times and had no right to be in this country.

Also here today is Paula Fredrick, the mother of Amy Fredrick who was killed by fentanyl at just 25 years old. Fentanyl that undoubtedly was trafficked across our porous Southern Border.

We refuse to sit idly by while Biden’s Border Crisis ruins lives across the nation.

Since President Biden won’t stop the flow of illegal immigrants and dangerous drugs across the border, Florida has been forced to pick up the slack.

We’ve now sent over 100 Florida State Troopers and dozens of FWC officers to help Texas with border operations, banned sanctuary cities, and instituted policies to deter illegal immigration into our state.

The Biden Border Crisis has made every state a border state – and Florida is fighting back!

Last year, hundreds of Floridians had their homes destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Idalia.

We rallied resources to the Big Bend region before, during, and after this powerful Category 3 storm made landfall.

At my direction nearly 30,000 utility linemen were staged in preparation for the storm, and among the thousands of first responders and National Guard who prepared to respond, there were members of our newly reformed Florida State Guard that deployed for the first time since 1947.

As a result of our preparations, in less than one week, ninety-six percent of power was restored, a record for such a rural part of the state.

We have Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast with us here today. We stood side-by-side with the Sheriff in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and we will continue to stand with Citrus County and the Big Bend as the community rebuilds.

And as the Big Bend recovers from this year’s storm, we remain focused on the long-term recovery that is still ongoing in Southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian.

While the news cameras have long-since left, we are still there to support residents like Rachel Pierce, a Sanibel-based artist whose art gallery was destroyed by the storm.

After receiving a grant from the Florida Disaster Fund just a few months ago, Rachel was able to reopen her art gallery in November.

With your support, we have made good on our promise to leave Florida to God better than we found it. As the Fishing Capital of the World and home to more than 1,300 miles of world-renowned coastline, Florida’s economic success is tied to our environment.

Since 2019, we have invested $5 billion to support Everglades restoration and water quality, and I am calling for another $1.1 billion to continue our efforts.

In much of our state, the great outdoors is a way of life, and we must preserve that way of life for generations to come, which is why I am calling for $125 million to protect Florida’s conservation lands and waterways.

While across the nation leftist activists have attempted to take away our God-given rights to hunt, fish and enjoy our great outdoors, in Florida we will continue to honor and protect those traditions.

Before I close, it is worth pointing out some more accomplishments that we have been able to deliver:

  • Protected Floridians against COVID authoritarianism
  • Expanded Second Amendment rights
  • Kneecapped ESG
  • Protected the sanctity of life
  • Banned China from buying land in Florida
  • Provided hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for homeowners and instituted long-needed reforms that have, against all odds, attracted new insurance companies into Florida
  • Enacted a digital bill of rights
  • Passed the best election integrity measures in America
  • Created a program to accelerate repayment of state debt
  • Protected Floridians against the imposition of a central bank digital currency
  • Authorized the death penalty for pedophiles
  • Brought accountability and transparency to pharmacy middlemen to lower drug costs for consumers
  • Won the fight with the federal government to purchase less expensive drugs from Canada
  • Passed the Moving Florida Forward initiative to accelerate road projects to alleviate traffic

Let’s see some other state match that list of achievements!

Just outside of this capitol building there sits a replica of the Liberty Bell that rang in what is now known as Independence Hall, where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and later crafted the US Constitution.

On that bell is inscribed a verse from Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

This replica sits here in Tallahassee, a thousand miles away from Philadelphia, reminding us of our task: to proclaim liberty.

Here in the Sunshine State, we have delivered good government that protects liberty and maintains order. We have won the unprecedented backing of a populace reflective of our country at large. And we have put forth a blueprint for America’s revival that has instilled hope into the hearts of millions that a new birth of freedom can emanate from this land once more.

We are the heirs to the spirit of 1776 represented by the Liberty Bell. Over the next two months let’s enact policies that Focus on Florida’s Future, and that keep faith with our nation’s founding ideals.

Together, we will keep Florida free and provide hope for a revival of the American spirit throughout these United States.