Eight years ago, you gave me the incredible honor of serving as your State Representative in Tallahassee. And for the past two years, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as the Speaker of the Florida House - the first from Brevard County. The November election marks the end of my term in office, and I wanted to take this opportunity to say a final thank you.
I believe it's fair to say the last eight years could be described as a tale of two Floridas. From 2008 through 2011, the recession ravaged our economy, with unemployment over 12%, budget shortfalls of more than $6 billion, and the end of the space shuttle program.
Getting through the recession required the Legislature to make difficult, even painful decisions. I think our efforts to cut taxes and red tape, balance the budget, and shrink government ultimately inured to our state's benefit. Working with Members from Brevard and across the state, we focused on getting our economy growing again by promoting tourism, making Florida attractive to the nascent commercial space industry, strengthening our infrastructure, removing red tape hurting our businesses, supporting stronger education options, and lowering the burden shouldered by taxpayers.
Today, Florida is financially and economically stronger, with a budget surplus and an unemployment rate below the national average. We are a national leader in job creation, with over 1,191,900 new private sector jobs created since December 2010. Tourism records have been smashed, with over 105 million visitors in 2015 - and even higher numbers projected this year. Commercial space is booming in Brevard County thanks to employers such as Embraer, Harris, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, and the work of Space Florida. Our ports are seeing higher traffic, including Port Canaveral. Florida remains one of America's largest food producers. Taxes were slashed over $1 billion in the last two years alone. Our schools have record funding. UCF is on track to become an emerging pre-eminent university, opening the door to millions in new funding and continued importance as an economic driver here in Central Florida.
While I believe Florida is squarely on the path of growth and prosperity, the work is not done. We cannot be satisfied with our economy until every Floridian who wants a job can find one. Too many children still struggle to read and write at grade level while many more graduate into the workforce without the skills they need for success. Our pension system remains unreformed. And vigilance is required to protect the long-term health of our water resources.
Four years ago, I called attention to water as one of the most important issues facing Florida, both in terms of health and supply. Algae superblooms and brown tide were plaguing the Indian River Lagoon and other water bodies across the state. Projected growth over the next several decades showed serious strain on the supply of clean water. In that time, we have taken what I believe are important steps to protect our critical water resources.
We have allocated over $80 million to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon, including muck dredging and water quality improvement projects. We passed legislation to complete the restoration of the Everglades and establish dedicated funding to do so. This year's budget includes $50 million to restore our springs.
And, we passed a comprehensive water policy bill that addresses our state's water quality and supply challenges in a statewide manner through the use of scientifically sound, responsible solutions.
To be clear - our water challenges cannot be solved with the stroke of a pen. Undoubtedly, much more work remains. However, the Legislature has addressed our water challenges in a serious way. I hope future legislatures will continue to prioritize water policy to ensure our state's water resources are protected for generations to come.
I look forward to spending more time with my family and staying engaged in the community I love. Florida is the state where not even the sky is the limit for success. From our beautiful beaches to our incredible high-tech workforce, I truly believe this is the greatest state in the nation. With continued commitment to conservative principles, I believe Florida will have a bright future.
Should you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (321)449-5111. Our staff will be on hand to assist you in any way until the next representative is elected in November.
Kristen, Carly, Kennedy, and I thank you again for the honor of a lifetime to serve you in the Florida House of Representatives. May God bless you and your families.
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