Saying that Florida is “clicking on all cylinders,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday proposed an election-year $99.7 billion budget that would funnel money to education, the environment, and law enforcement officers while giving motorists a temporary gas-tax break.
The proposal, which came as DeSantis runs for a second term in November, will be a starting point for lawmakers to negotiate a spending plan during the legislative session on Jan. 11.
“All public school teachers and principals in the state of Florida will be receiving a $1,000 payment under our budget,” said the governor during a news conference on Thursday.
The education portion of the budget would include school safety and mental health funding, getting rid of the Florida standards assessment, and replacing it with progress monitoring.
Kevin Daly, the Teachers Association of Lee County president, said, “we already do some progress monitoring here in Lee, and so, you know, we’re all about more learning and less standardized testing and less reliance on the test.”
The budget stretches from the classroom to our waterways. The governor proposes more than $980 million for Everglades restoration and our water.
“We have $35 million to combat blue-green algae and red tide. And that goes to things like innovative technologies, it goes to things like red tide research,” said DeSantis.
It is welcome news for groups like Captains for Clean Water. Its program director, Chris Wittman, said, “we’ve seen over the last few years the importance of water quality, and really, we see this as an investment in the future of our economy.”
“This is a huge, huge budget. This is a huge deal,” DeSantis said during a news conference at the Capitol. “This is something that is going to have very positive effects. We are doing that while remaining the lowest per-capita tax burden in the country.”
According to the governor’s office, DeSantis’ proposal’s bottom line would be about $2 billion less than the current year’s budget. The current year budget, which took effect in July, became the state’s first $100 billion budget, at least in part because of a massive influx of federal money tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis’ proposal would continue to use such federal money to fund critical issues, such as a plan to eliminate state gas taxes for five months starting in July. Federal money would make up about $1 billion in lost gas-tax revenue that ordinarily goes to transportation projects.
The governor in recent weeks trickled out some details of the budget, spurring Democrats to argue that the spending plan should be more “people-centered.”
“The state’s budget should prioritize the everyday challenges facing the people across our state and reflect a commitment to the important partnership between the state and federal government that is needed for Florida and Floridians to thrive, not more double talk from the governor that only serves his political aspirations,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a prepared statement Thursday after DeSantis released the proposal.
DeSantis’ proposal includes:
- Spending $600 million to continue efforts to raise salaries of public-school teachers, an increase of $50 million over the current year. The plan also would provide $238 million for $1,000 “retention” bonuses for teachers and principals.
- No tuition increases for state college or university students.
- Spending $980 million on Everglades restoration and other water projects. That amount includes $660 million related to the Everglades, with other money going to addressing issues such as blue-green algae, red tide and natural springs.
- Spending $124.2 million to increase base pay for correctional officers, as the prison system grapples with massive turnover. DeSantis also wants to give pay raises to law-enforcement officers at other agencies and provide $1,000 bonuses to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency-medical technicians throughout the state.
- Spending $226.5 million to increase Medicaid payment rates for health- and human-services providers such as nursing homes as a way to address staffing problems. The budget also would provide $100 million for cancer care and research, an increase of $37 million from the current year.
- Providing $225 million for pay increases for state employees, in addition to the increases sought for correctional officers and law-enforcement officers.
- Eliminating state gas taxes for a five-month period and holding a series of sales-tax “holidays.” That includes a 10-day period in which back-to-school shoppers could avoid paying sales taxes on clothes, school supplies and personal computers.
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report. WINK News also contributed to this report.
Watch the news conference below or click here.