On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis offered a $99.7 billion budget proposal for the Legislature to consider when it meets next year.
DeSantis dubbed his proposal the “Freedom First Budget” and his proposal is slightly under the $101.5 billion budget he signed last year when there was more federal money due to the pandemic. However, it remains higher than the $92.2 billion budget that DeSantis signed two years ago.
“The Freedom First Budget focuses on preserving freedom and prosperity for Floridians with record funding for education, environmental resources and law enforcement. The budget also protects freedom and liberty by once again rejecting mandates and lockdowns,” the governor’s office noted.
“In Florida, we have put Freedom First – protecting Floridians’ freedom to earn a living, to operate businesses and to choose educational options tailored for their children,” said DeSantis. “As a result of our commitment to freedom, Florida’s economy continues to thrive and Floridians are better able to provide for their families. Today, I am proud to announce my budget proposals that will build on our foundation of freedom by investing in priorities that matter to our residents. This budget puts Floridians and their freedoms first, keeps taxes low, and addresses key priorities – all while maintaining record budget reserves.”
DeSantis proposed a fuel tax holiday, insisting it will save taxpayers across the state more than $1 billion and called for the elimination of a Florida Identification Card, saying it will save taxpayers $14.7 million.
“Florida’s economy has grown faster than the nation, enjoying 18 consecutive months of job growth, as a result of smart investments and policies that kept Florida open and businesses operating. Investments in rural communities and the tourism industry give Florida communities the freedom to elevate their regions for decades to come,” the governor’s office noted. “The Freedom First Budget includes: $105 million, an increase of $100 million over the current year, for the Rural Infrastructure Fund to support local rural infrastructure projects such as roads, storm, wastewater systems, and internet access for rural communities; $100 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to support projects that create workforce training opportunities and invest in critical infrastructure; $50 million in recurring funding for Visit Florida, Florida’s tourism marketing agency.”
DeSantis also called for $9.27 billion for the State Transportation Work Program.
Turning to education, the governor called for $600 million for teacher pay–an increase of $50 million from last year and once again urged the Legislature “to reach a minimum teacher salary of $47,500.” DeSantis also wants to increase funding per student to $8,000 per student.
The governor also proposed $421 million for school safety and mental health initiatives. “That funding includes $210 million for the safe schools program – an increase of $30 million over the previous year, $140 million for mental health – a $20 million increase over the previous year, $42 million for school hardening grants, and $4 million for safety initiatives at Jewish Day Schools,” DeSantis’ office noted.
The governor turned his attention to law enforcement including “$226.7 million to provide salary increases for those working in public safety – including 25 percent raises for all veteran state sworn law enforcement; 20 percent salary increases for entry-level state sworn law enforcement” and a “$5,000 signing bonus for every recruit who is new to the law enforcement profession in Florida once they complete their training and they officially become a law enforcement officer.”
DeSantis also wants more than $100 million for the National Guard. The bulk of those funds–$87.5 million–would go to create three readiness centers.
The governor also called for $980 million for Everglades restoration and and managing water resources.
“This would bring Florida’s four-year investment to $3 billion, surpassing our goal of $2.5 billion and doubling the investment of the previous four years,” the governor’s office noted with most of the funds–more than $660 million–for Everglades restoration. DeSantis also asked for more than “$550 million to increase the resiliency of Florida’s coastal and inland communities” and “$100 million for the Florida Forever program” and “$51.7 million for infrastructure improvements and natural resource management at our award-winning state parks.”
Leaders from the business community threw their support behind the proposal
“AIF applauds Governor DeSantis’ proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which importantly contains four tax holidays, including a critical gas tax holiday that will save hardworking Florida families and businesses over $1 billion,” said Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) President Brewster Bevis.“Governor DeSantis’ focus on fostering freedom and prosperity is undoubtedly helping our state economy thrive and creating a brighter future for all Floridians. This proposed budget continues that important work with significant investments in our environment and science-based water quality projects, a high-quality education system, vital transportation projects, and workforce development.
“As we head into the 2022 Legislative Session, AIF looks forward to working with the governor, as well as the Senate and House, on behalf of the business community to ensure a pro-business environment for Florida’s employers and employees to flourish for years to come,” Bevis added.
Critics from the left quickly took aim at the governor’s proposed budget.
“For the last three years, Governor Ron DeSantis has proven that, to him, the word freedom means the freedom to put wealthy corporate donors ahead of everyday Floridians, the freedom to block local decision making, and the freedom to put self-serving, polarizing partisan politics ahead of public health and safety,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo. “While many Floridians continue to suffer under this Governor’s lack of leadership, today’s budget proposal was just a continuation of his self-serving politics of lofty rhetoric while his actions continue to put Floridians last.”
“Under Governor Ron DeSantis, Floridians have had the freedom to see their housing costs soar, their property insurance rates skyrocket, and their wages stagnate,” said Florida Watch Executive Director Josh Weierbach. “Leaving $15 billion in reserves while working families are suffering from a housing crisis is an insult to the people of our state who have been on the frontlines throughout this pandemic. Simply put, Florida is unaffordable for many Floridians but the governor remains laser focused on policies that only play to the far-right base and the wealthy corporate donors he needs for his upcoming presidential campaign.”
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