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Former Miami Beach Mayor on Florida vaccine clash: ‘the economic impact is devastating’

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Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita and Zack Guzman speak with Philip Levine, Former Miami Beach Mayor about how businesses are faring in Florida as the world begins to reopen.

Video Transcript


ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to "Yahoo Finance Live." Of course, the cruise industry was obviously hit rather hard in the pandemic, one of the hardest-hit sectors, as they were completely shut down. But now the reopening is being marred by a political back and forth over vaccine status, mainly orders from the CDC requiring cruises to ensure that 95% of passengers have been vaccinated is now at odds with a law that was signed or will be enacted July 1 by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that bars businesses in Florida from requiring proof of vaccine status.

And that law goes into effect in just a couple of weeks here, when cruises are starting back up or hoping to start to get back to normal in what is a big time for Florida's $8 billion cruising economy. And for more on that, we're joined by the former mayor of Miami Beach, Phillip Levine here.

And Philip, I mean, when we look at this, what's interesting is the public there in Florida, it sounds like, isn't necessarily siding with Governor DeSantis. When you look at that University of South Florida poll showing just 24% of Floridians agree with the position that cruise lines should not be allowed to require proof of vaccine status. I mean, how do you see this battle shaping up?

PHILIP LEVINE: Zack, it's a shame. Think about it. Floridians were asked this question. And they said, over 75% of them said they do not believe this is good policy. But I'll tell you about another poll.

Cruise Critic which is the largest cruise, kind of review, online program in the nation, if not world, over 80% of these cruisers said they would be more comfortable being on a cruise ship where they knew every one was vaccinated.

So it's unfortunate that bad policy has gotten in the way of good businesses that are trying to do the right thing. And hopefully, the governor will see what's going on and be able to modify or put an exemption together to allow those cruise lines to operate the business which they know is the right way by keeping their passengers as safe as possible. So we're all standing by, hoping that he sees this.

AKIKO FUJITA: When you strip out the politics from this, it does, in many ways, highlight the challenges that have faced so many businesses during the pandemic. On the one hand, wanting to be able to resume things the way they were pre-pandemic but also being mindful of the health concerns. Talk to me about the economic impact the grounding of these cruises have had on Miami.

PHILIP LEVINE: Well, think about this. The Port of Miami the largest cruise port in the entire world, 6.8 million passengers last year. 22 cruise lines are based there. Detroit is Motor City. It's the heart of the automobile industry. Hollywood, LA, that's the entertainment industry. New York's Wall Street.

Well, Miami is the capital of the cruise industry. It's the one product from Florida that was made in Florida, manufactured, and marketed all over the world. The economic impact is devastating.

And I want to say this too. It's not about affluent, wealthy owners of cruise lines. It's about stevedores, taxi drivers, people that are trying to feed their families, people that understand that they need to be able to pay back mortgages, pay for rent. And it's unfortunate this policy is hurting them from doing so.

Take the three largest, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line. They've taken on $60 billion worth of debt during the last 14, 15 months to survive. And they're spending $1 billion a month just to hang on.

And unfortunately, what the governor did is you threw a monkey wrench into their plans. And again, we're hoping that politics can get out of this because I've said it in the article I wrote for "USA Today," the ocean is not Republican, and the ocean is not Democrat. Affordable vacations aren't Republican or Democrat. People just want to go out and enjoy themselves where they want to do it safely.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And Philip, I mean, obviously, if it doesn't get worked out, I imagine these cruise companies are going to be caught in a very tough position if they want to seek legal action against the Florida law here and experts are kind of going back and forth over whether or not the CDC would have authority beyond Florida's law. It sounds like they might, depending on who you ask. But I mean, would they want to go that route? Do you see that eventually being the way that they're going to solve this conundrum if it's a battle versus the governor of Florida? Or do you see them backing down?

PHILIP LEVINE: Well, I'm not sure anyone is going to back down, none of the three parties, the cruise lines, the state, or the federal government and the CDC. What we'd love to see and I think the industry would love to see is the CDC and the governor come together with a reasonable policy.

This is a pro-business governor. And it's very strange to see a pro-business governor kind of acting like big brother and telling these companies how to run their business. And all they want to do is keep their customers safe.

So everyone is standing by. There's a federal case in Tampa right now. The judge has not ruled yet. But that does not have anything to do with the Florida State law that has to do with disallowing vaccine mandates.

So we're waiting. We're standing by. And unfortunately, the people that are suffering are those people that are relying on the cruise industry. You're talking about, literally, 436,000 Americans across the country that rely on it, approximately 159,000 Floridians that are employed by it. We have some of the biggest cruise capitals in the country, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, Port Miami, Port Tampa. They're all suffering. We just hope the governor will hopefully come to some type of compromise.