Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget proposal would increase funding to the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and Florida National Guard (FNG) to renovate the state’s aging armories.
The Governor’s $96.6 billion fiscal year budget designates funding increases for armory repairs, armory security, and equipment maintenance at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. In all, the proposal suggests DMA and FNG should receive over $68 million.
The proposal provides $7.2 million for armory renovations and $2 million for military base protection. By contrast, the FNG received only $3.4 million for armory maintenance in 2020.
FNG Adjutant General James Eifert told lawmakers on Wednesday that some armories are 50 to almost 100 years old.
“This is critical,” said Army Reserve Officer and Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, noting the condition of Florida’s aging armories.
In a written statement, DeSantis noted the Guard’s increased role in recent months.
As of Jan.15, more than 1,286 state troops are mobilized at home and abroad, not including local COVID-19 missions.
“These brave men and women continually support our state and nation, and these investments will not only recognize their selfless work, but will also help ensure Florida remains the most military friendly state in the nation,” DeSantis said.
While some areas saw gains, funding for education benefits decreased from last year.
According to the proposal, $3.1 million would be directed to education benefits such as the Educational Dollars for Duty Program. In 2020, the FNG received $4.2 million for the program.
Eifert said the program covers tuition for more than 1,800 soldiers and airmen pursuing post-secondary education.
He told lawmakers on Wednesday that tuition assistance is his primary recruitment and retention tool.
“When you make that promise and they’re entering schools and paying their bills and then you say you don’t have that money anymore, it’s really a letdown,” Eifert told Florida Politics before the proposal. “It’s a pretty significant impact when you cut that program.”
The Governor’s proposal comes as the Florida National Guard tests the capacity of its limits.
It also comes as lawmakers triage a $2 billion budget shortfall.
“The state’s commitment to ensuring our Guardsmen have secure and well-maintained facilities in which to train will ensure that they are able to continue to take care of the citizens of this great state,” Eifert said. “We are grateful for his ongoing support and leadership.”
In all, the Governor’s proposal is $ 3.75 million less than what was awarded to DMA this fiscal year.
Lawmakers will have a few days to read the proposal before the regathering next week for their third committee week.
The 2021 Legislative Session begins March 2.