Teachers, tourism & environmental spending: A preview of Ron DeSantis’ agenda for 2020 Session

Florida Legislature
Teacher bonuses, E-Verify on the wish list.

Entering his second Legislative Session, Gov. Ron DeSantis looks to push several initiatives, even though it’s a relatively flat second budget.

The proposal, in terms of overall spending, did not see a massive overall increase. The $91.4 billion budget proposal is a mere 0.4% increase year over year that does not keep pace with population growth.

Among the focuses: increased teacher compensation and environmental spending.

The budget includes “bold and meaningful” educational reform elements in what is being called The Year of the Teacher. These include radical and controversial changes in teacher compensation that make up $900 million of an extra billion dollars in FEFP education spending.

All told, spending would rise to $300 per student, reaching $7,979 per capita.

The major pitch was a $300 million proposal to replace the Best and Brightest Award Program teacher and principal bonuses, which totaled $285 million this year. The Governor envisions $600 million for new teacher pay, pushing minimum salaries up to $47,500 in every district.

The House has indicated resistance on this front, with Speaker José Oliva and Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings spotlighting resistance.

When asked about overcoming resistance, DeSantis’ office offered a statement: “Every Legislative Session has a unique dynamic, and as a former congressman, Gov. DeSantis is respectful of the role of the Legislature. He will continue to work cooperatively with both chambers in the upcoming 60-day Session, during which time he will make every effort to appropriately work through the various issues of importance to the future of Florida.”

Regarding environmental spending, the Governor advanced a number of proposals, including $300 million for the Everglades, more money for water quality improvements ($200 million over four years), $100 million for Florida Forever, $280 million for water storage and $50 million for beach restoration.

That environmental spending, meanwhile, will be accompanied by an ask to keep VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing going for another year.

DeSantis, expecting it to be a “source of some contention,” used the $50 million carveout from 2019 as a starting point for his 2020 budget proposal.

Such spending is a non-starter in the House. The agency has been on firmer footing in the Senate historically, and 2020 will be no different, according to Senate President Bill Galvano.

The $50 million approved last year was the compromise number floated by the Senate, below the $76 million threshold sought by the executive branch.

DeSantis also looks to increase spending on corrections.

Prisons are in crisis. Turnover is up 150% since 2013. Gang population also more than doubled at 140%. Assaults against inmates and guards: up 67% and 46%, respectively.

To that end, help is on the way.

Among the high points: $60.6 million for retention incentives; $29.1 million for a pilot program for 8.5-hour shifts (the current 12-hour stretches are not working for staff in many places); $2.2 million for sergeants to combat gang activity; $3 million for security enhancement equipment.

As well, in light of a rampant health crisis in facilities: $17.1 million for health services, $11.6 million of which will go to a new mental health facility in Lake County.

The Governor also seeks to fully fund affordable housing programs, a perpetual challenge in Tallahassee.

“While Florida’s economy remains strong, finding affordable housing can still be a challenge. The budget provides $387 million to fully fund Workforce and Affordable Housing Programs: $119.8 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program and $267.2 million for the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) Program,” his office asserted.

Beyond that, Gov. DeSantis is pushing an e-verify proposal.

DeSantis campaigned on such in 2018, but resistance from the business community proved prohibitive in 2019, just as it had been previous years.

The proposal has been filed in the House and the Senate, and while the battle lines are mostly familiar, the Governor again will try to get this through, this time in a Presidential election year.

DeSantis celebrated 2019’s passage of a bill he campaigned on, a ban on sanctuary cities and counties. While critics point out that no such jurisdictions exist in the state, the bill was framed as a prophylactic measure.

Another significant accomplishment from the last Session: the nascent Canadian/foreign drug importation program, a big push that could take a couple of years to get underway. Right now, the administration wants $20 million to kick it off, though that number may tick downward depending on the pace of federal rule-making.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


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