TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's governor wants to spend about $4.3 billion more next fiscal year. That's despite the ongoing pandemic, which brought historic job losses, business closures and weakened tourism.
"We're in better shape because we made decisions that benefited the state," DeSantis said while announcing his 2021-2022 budget proposal Thursday.
The $96.6 billion "Florida Leads" proposal is possible after smart use of CARES dollars and better-than-expected revenue, the Republican said. It calls for no new taxes, mass layoffs, major cuts or dipping into state reserves.
"Other areas have done things that destroyed their societies, their economies. Maybe they'll come back, but I think it's going to be a lot easier for Florida because we took steps early and kept the state afloat."
Vital areas of education, infrastructure and the environment largely keep or exceed current levels. The climate change fight gets a billion-dollar grant program for local governments, tuition stays put and funding continues for new toll roads.
Lawmakers are now poised for the next step, months of review and final approval.
"I've been in meetings all morning and haven't had a chance to review. ... vast recommendations from the governor," said House Speaker Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. "But, we're happy to take the governor's input and recommendations and vet that through the committee process and build it into the puzzle."
The process can be arduous and often results in a budget with numerous changes compared to the governor's first draft. Some groups are doubtful the promises DeSantis has made will happen.
Florida's Education Association has reservations despite the governor's pledge to increase base student allocations by $132 and dedicate another $50 million, $550 million total, to the state's effort to raise minimum teacher salaries.
"Well, you know the devil is always in the details," said FEA President Andrew Spar. "I'm always apprehensive in a state where I feel public schools have been shortchanged."
Florida Democrats were even more concerned. The Co-House Minority Leader Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, considered the governor's budget a "fictitious document."
Jenne said DeSantis is painting too rosy a picture and that Floridians will have to pay a price to meet those expectations.
"The only way that you can get that extra money is through new taxes and new fees," Jenne said. "That is something that I just cannot support."
The Appropriations Committee will start looking at the proposal as soon as next week. Lawmakers will then hash things out during the legislative session in March. The new budget would take effect in July.