TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a $109.9 billion state budget after vetoing $3.1 billion in programs and projects included by Florida lawmakers, saying the ax-swinging was needed to defend against a stumbling national economy.
The Republican governor signed the spending plan Thursday in an event at The Villages, where in campaign style, he spent a lot of time blasting the Biden administration for inflation, supply-chain problems and COVID-19 policies.
“We would be better off if he had simply gotten into office and did nothing, than what he has done so far,” DeSantis said.
Still, the $109.9 billion budget, which takes effect July 1, is helped by almost $3.5 billion in coronavirus relief funds steered to the state by Washington.
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The 2022-23 plan also is 8% larger than the current year blueprint which, itself, was 10% bigger than its predecessor, in part, because of aid the federal government directed to states to stabilize economies rocked by the pandemic.
DeSantis, flanked by Republican leaders of the House and Senate, took pride in his belt-tightening. While he called it “by far the largest number and amount of line-item vetoes in the history of this state,” that claim may be disputed.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, as Florida’s governor in 2017, vetoed $11.9 billion and about 400 projects from a much smaller budget, leading to a special session that recalculated money for public schools, which he had vetoed entirely.
But with his vetoes, DeSantis said his message was clear: “We’re making sure we’re protecting your money,” he said.
Among the biggest single vetoes by the governor was a $1 billion reserve account intended to help state agencies meet anticipated rising costs for services. DeSantis sees the state’s roughly $6 billion in reserves as adequate and warned in his veto that the $1 billion fund could keep agencies from making needed cuts if money starts running out.
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The Department of Corrections also lost close to $850 million with vetoes of new prison and hospital construction projects.
Dozens of hometown water and sewer projects, cultural programs, and state dollars for renovating city halls, police stations and fairgrounds, along with some park funding and aid to local governments also was cut by the governor, who spread his vetoes across 12 pages in a pdf.
"Despite the huge price tag, I don’t think most Floridians will feel like they’re getting their money’s worth from this nine-figure budget," said House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne of Dania Beach.
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While Republican leaders standing by him applauded and smiled, DeSantis’ vetoes erased many projects they had signed-off on. One DeSantis veto eliminated a $31.3 million expenditure for two new state aircraft envisioned as being available to dozens of officials, including many state lawmakers.
“This is an inadvisable expense,” wrote DeSantis, who does have an 11-seat Cessna jet for his use, in his veto message. “Especially under current economic conditions.”
The governor also vetoed $50 million for a 6th District Court of Appeal courthouse in Lakeland, as well as $15 million set aside for the 2nd District Court of Appeal courthouse in Pinellas County.
Another $35 million for a sports complex in Pasco County, seen as a spring-training facility for the Tampa Bay Rays, also was eliminated by DeSantis.
Search DeSantis' budget veto list
12 school districts get a break
DeSantis removed what lawmakers had included as a $200 million penalty for 12 school districts which defied the governor by requiring some form of mask requirement in classrooms last year.
Lawmakers wanted schools in these districts barred from receiving rewards from the Florida School Recognition Program. But DeSantis Thursday directed state education officials to ignore that ban.
DeSantis wrote that “districts’ actions do not impact schools’ eligibility,” making high-performing schools, their teachers and staff in the 12 targeted counties now back in the game for earning state recognition money.
The 12 districts are Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties.
But with plenty of cash, DeSantis endorsed most of the Legislature’s spending measures.
Across-the-board pay raises for state employees are set at 5.38%, and a new $15-an-hour minimum wage is also approved for the state workforce. The budget also includes $800 million as part of what has been a multi-year effort to bring Florida teachers to a minimum $47,500 salary and allow pay raises for veteran instructors.
Per-pupil school spending also will top $8,000 for the first time — a $384.55 boost for each of Florida’s 2.9 million school kids, bringing per-student dollars to an average $8,143.
The budget also includes $1 billion for Everglades protection and water resource improvements, helping DeSantis exceed a goal he set when taking office in 2019 of pouring $2.5 billion into such projects over four years. He’s at the $3 billion mark now.
A bounty of tax breaks
The Legislature also doled out tax breaks.
A host of sales tax holidays for back-to-school purchases, hurricane preparation, and one-year exemptions on taxes applied to diapers and children’s clothes, are flanked by corporate and special event tax cuts — a $1.3 billion giveaway that DeSantis recently signed into law at a Sam’s Club store in Ocala.
The single biggest tax break is $200 million in coronavirus relief aid approved by Congress. DeSantis is using the federal money to provide a roughly 25-cents-a-gallon gas tax break for the month of October, a month before voters go to the polls to decide his re-election bid, along with all 160 seats in the Legislature.
DeSantis had earlier sought a $1 billion reduction in the gas tax, spanning five months. But legislative leaders said they were wary of spending the federal money directed to Florida on a tax break that would be used by many out-of-state motorists.
Still, the $200 million gas-tax break may prove a timely bit of legislative largesse. House and Senate leaders, though, defended the October date, saying it was settled on because it’s considered a month where fewer tourists are in Florida and the money can help more Floridians.
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: DeSantis attacks Biden, doesn't mention federal aid in Florida budget