We address state-local relationships during COVID-19 in Florida by asking two research questions: Were state-local relations characterized by cooperation or conflict during COVID-19? Was this relationship a one-off, or does it foreshadow future state-local relations? We deploy a three-part survey of Florida city managers distributed by the Florida League of Cities. The first part asks city managers about their COVID-19 response, including the various shutdown and reopening policies in their counties. The second part asks city managers about their post-COVID-19 predictions. This includes the extent to which they believe the Florida state government has centralized its power during the COVID-19 crisis, and how future centralization might change as a result. The third part asks city managers how closely they worked with their county officials during the COVID-19 crisis. Sixty-seven Florida city managers responded to our survey, garnering an 18 percent response rate. The survey was conducted from August to October 2020.
Our survey brought about three major findings. First, city managers generally felt that the state of Florida was largely involved in city closing and reopening measures. Across both closing and reopening actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, city managers rated state involvement a 43 out of 100. Interestingly the state involvement was perceived to be greater in the reopening period (48 out of 100) than the closing period (40 out of 100). This likely reflects that fact that Governor DeSantis was more eager to reopen than to close. In fact, in September 2020, Governor DeSantis vowed, “we will never do any of these lockdowns again” (Swisher 2020). City managers felt that the state was more involved in non-essential businesses (64 out of 100) and bars (72 out of 100) than in mask mandates (29 out of 100) and parks (17 out of 100). The results for these categories are unsurprising, given that Governor DeSantis set state standards for restaurant and bar closures, but declined to mandate masks.
Second, city managers felt that the state was more involved in other emergencies than in COVID-19. When asked to compare how state action in COVID-19 compared to other emergencies 44 percent of respondents said that state involvement in COVID-19 was higher, while 32 percent said it was lower. 24 percent said that state involvement was about the same.
Third, city managers felt that the state would become less involved in local affairs once the COVID-19 pandemic was over. 75 percent expect state involvement in local affairs to return to about the same post-COVID-19. On the other hand, 14 percent expect state involvement to increase; 11 percent expect state involvement to decrease.
This post is a summary of our technical report for the LeRoy Collins Institute.
Alexandra Artiles is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University. Her research interests include public policy, state politics, and federalism. You can learn more about Alexandra here.
Kenneth R. Mackie is a PhD Candidate in the Political Science Department at Florida State University. His research subfield is public policy, with most of his work centered around climate change and education. You can learn more about Kenneth here.
Dr. Matthew J. Uttermark is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration at Binghamton University, SUNY. He earned his doctoral degree in political science from Florida State University in 2019. You can learn more about Dr. Uttermark here.
Dr. Carol Weissert is a Professor Emerita in the Political Science at Florida State University. Her research interests include federalism, state politics, and health policy. You can learn more about Dr. Weissert here.