With little more than three weeks before he takes office, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis on Monday proposed bringing back a state-government veteran to run the Florida Department of Revenue --- while a transition committee continued delving into environmental and land issues.
DeSantis announced he would recommend Jim Zingale to serve as executive director of the Department of Revenue, a job that Zingale also held during former Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration.
Zingale, whose appointment is subject to approval by the state Cabinet, is a longtime figure in the Capitol. Along with his stint leading the Department of Revenue, he served as a staff director in the Legislature and headed the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. During the past decade, he has served as research director of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida and done consulting work.
“With his prior experience at the department, Jim has a deep understanding of this agency that has 5,400 employees and a budget of more than $500 million,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “His knowledge of the inner workings of DOR, paired with his innovative ideas for modernization, make Jim the ideal choice to lead this department into the future.”
Leon Biegalski has served as the agency’s executive director since March 2016 and is paid $151,000 a year, according to state records.
DeSantis will take office Jan. 8 and has been gradually filling positions in his administration. Meanwhile, advisory committees are meeting to make recommendations about key issues.
On Monday, a panel focused on environmental issues met by phone, with the creation of an interior secretary position floated as a way to improve communications between the state’s major land-management agencies.
The need for more cooperation among state agencies was discussed on a number of fronts by members of the Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture.
Topics included improving water quality and reducing the impacts of toxic algae and red tide outbreaks, protecting coral reefs and fighting invasive species --- particularly lionfish and Burmese pythons.
“It may be that the governor needs a secretary of the interior of the state of Florida, that will be a coordinator between … agencies to be able to target all of these projects, prioritize them, and start getting the hot spots addressed,” committee member Ron Bergeron suggested, referring to major Everglades-restoration projects.
Bergeron is a land developer and former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission member.
The meeting was the second for the committee which is expected to address agriculture issues during a Dec. 28 conference call. A list of potential policy recommendations is due to DeSantis before his inauguration.
Everglades restoration and the need to make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more amenable to Florida’s priorities on water projects dominated the discussion when the committee met last week.
Congressman Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican who chairs the committee, reiterated Monday that DeSantis will continue the state’s position against opening previously protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling. The issue has drawn renewed attention because of Trump administration proposal to expand drilling.
“Florida is going to be adamant in its position that our coastlines are far too valuable and too vulnerable for offshore oil drilling,” Mast said. “This come directly from the governor-elect’s office.”
When U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced offshore drilling plans in January, he flew to Tallahassee to say that Florida would be exempt. However, no formal announcement has been made since that time on where drilling may or may not occur.