What Does The Special Session Mean For The Local Economy?

Aug 11, 2014

Lawmakers have returned to the capitol, but during a special session, their impact on the local economy appears muted.
Credit Jenn Greiving via Wikimedia Commons

Florida’s Legislature has returned to the capitol to revise the state’s congressional districts.  During the regular session, government workers make up a big part of Tallahassee’s local economy, but the special session’s impact is less clear.

Last week, when Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford called the Legislature back to work, it threw lawmakers’ summer plans into disarray.  For some, like Naples Republican Rep. Kathleen Passidomo it wasn’t a big deal.

“I practice law, so I would’ve been in my law office doing some legal work,” Passidomo says.  

For others it got in the way of vacation plans

“My husband and I actually had a trip planned to Portland, Oregon,” says Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman.  “He lectures, and he’s lecturing this Saturday in Portland, and we were going to spend a couple extra days out there.  I’ve never been there, so I’m really disappointed that I had to cancel the trip.”

But on the bright side, lawmakers coming back to town could give Tallahassee a small economic boost.  Some legislators maintain an apartment in town, but others go to hotels. For instance, St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley is staying at Aloft in downtown Tallahassee.

But that’s about as far as his economic footprint goes.

“I mean I packed my steel cut oats, and I have a little bag of groceries from home,” Dudley says, “and we eat here in the house - I think we’re having chicken.”

Jonathan Brashier manages the hotel where Dudley is staying.  Brashier says they haven’t seen much impact, and he thinks it has to do with the nature of a special session.

“A special session typically calls back the actual legislators themselves,” Brashier says, ”so it doesn’t bring in as many out of town travelers as when we’re in normal session.”

Looking to the restaurant scene, Madison Social assistant manager Matt Poulos says the legislative session directly affects their bottom line. 

“Absolutely, whenever session is in, we see an influx of young professionals - suits.  Politically charged people come in, absolutely,” Poulos says.

Madison social is close to the FSU campus, and it’s probably a bit more popular with legislative aides than with lawmakers. But Tallahassee Rep. Alan Williams did hold a fundraiser there last week.  Poulos says they’ve only seen a small impact so far, but either way, they’re going to make the most of it.

“We have a drink called the Jerry Mander,” Poulos says, “it’s Sailor Jerry, mandarin orange and ginger beer.”

As subcommittees in both houses passed draft proposals Friday, it seems clear lawmakers will have an impact on the map even if their influence over the local economy is less clear.