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Florida Governor Rolls Out $96.6 Billion Budget Plan

Clint Thompson Florida

board members
Governor Ron DeSantis

NSF – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a record 96.6-billion-dollar state budget on Thursday for the upcoming fiscal year. His spending plan offers a more upbeat picture of Florida’s finances than state lawmakers, who will have to stitch together a budget as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamper the economy.

DeSantis’ proposal is a starting point for the legislative deliberations, and it relies heavily on federal money that has flowed into the state to help deal with the pandemic. The governor’s spending plan would be about $4.3 billion higher than the current year’s budget.

During a news conference at the Capitol, DeSantis said his proposal would increase funding in key areas.

“The ‘Florida Leads Fiscal Year 21-22 Budget’ continues to make important investments in our education system and the environment. It puts Florida on solid financial footing, with $6.6 billion in total reserves.”

But the proposal is a departure from projections that the state could face a more than a $2 billion budget shortfall because of the economic fallout of the pandemic.

House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne describes DeSantis’ budget proposal as a “wish list.”

“The governor’s proposed budget holds no sway, when it comes to when things are actually being done. Obviously, priorities will be prioritized for his benefit. But, in terms of the overall structure of things, it is really just political theater.”

Legislative leaders have warned repeatedly that they expect to have to make budget cuts as they negotiate a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

DeSantis’ proposal addresses a myriad of programs and issues across state government. Some high-profile parts of the proposal include:

— An additional $285.5 million for the main part of public-school funding, with an increase of $233 per student. About $217 million of the $285.5 million would come from increased property-tax revenues that stem from higher property values.

— $625 million to continue a multi-year effort to restore the Everglades and address other water-related issues, including springs restoration. The proposal also includes a new “Resilient Florida” program, which would involve issuing bonds to help the state and local governments address issues such as sea-level rise.

— $50 million for the Visit Florida tourism-marketing agency, which has been the subject of years of battles in the Legislature. Also, the proposal would provide $50 million for the “Job Growth Grant” program, an economic-development program.

— An eight-day tax “holiday” that would allow back-to-school shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes, school supplies and computers. Also, the proposal would provide a 10-day tax holiday for purchases of disaster-preparedness supplies.

— No across-the-board pay raises for state employees

The annual legislative session starts March 2, but committees are scheduled next week to start reviewing the proposal.

(From The News Service of Florida)