House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson announced plans to fund key infrastructure programs by redirecting documentary stamp tax dollars that currently go to the affordable housing trust fund.
The legislative leaders’ plans involve splitting those dollars into thirds to fund some of their top projects, namely combating sea level rise, wastewater grants and affordable housing. The news comes as lawmakers prepare to roll out their budget proposals for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins in July.
“Floridians have been waiting a long time for a comprehensive plan that addresses these three critical areas of public policy,” Simpson said in a statement. “I look forward to discussing our plan with everyone in detail as we roll out our budget and conforming bills in the coming days.”
One third of documentary stamp tax dollars will go toward the “Always Ready: Flooding and Sea Level Rise Agenda” Sprowls announced last month. The plan would dedicate $100 million annually, beginning in the 2022-23 fiscal year, to create a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. It would also create a flood risk assessment and grant program.
“The impacts of sea level rise are being felt by Floridians all across the state,” Sprowls said. “From coastal to inland communities, flooding is a timely and urgent issue that must be addressed now.”
Another portion would go toward the Wastewater Grant Program, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year, within the Department of Environmental Protection. That program to help communities across Florida implement wastewater infrastructure programs is one of Simpson’s priorities.
The final third of the plan would keep funding in the affordable housing realm with an added provision that those funds cannot be swept into general revenue.
“Nearly every year we end up sweeping documentary stamp money that is dedicated to affordable housing into our general revenue fund to spend it on the needs of the day,” Simpson said. “We also have a tendency to create programs that sound great, but which we don’t actually fund.”
Sweeping dollars from the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund is a perennial debate among lawmakers. DeSantis has repeatedly requested it remained fully funded, and he did so again this year.
The 2020-21 budget, signed in June, was the first budget approved since the 2007-08 fiscal year that didn’t redirect part of the affordable housing fund to other purposes. However, the Governor used federal CARES Act dollars to fill in a gap he created by veto because of the pandemic.
State housing fund appropriations have averaged $160 million annually over the last five years. On top of that, the state has also received an average of $542 million each year from the federal government.
This year, Florida is receiving is an additional $1.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program to assist local governments with affordable housing.
Since the 2012-13 fiscal year, documentary stamp tax revenues and the distributions to the housing trust funds have grown rapidly in Florida, outpacing annual growth in both the consumer price index and the state’s population.
Simpson said the proposal will create a steady stream for the three priorities.
“I am glad to work with President Simpson to share a plan that strikes just the right balance so that we are able to be always ready — whether it comes to flooding, wastewater or affordable housing, Floridians win,” Sprowls said.