The issue of affordable housing funding has put Democratic House leaders and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in the unusual instance of being on the same side.
Infrastructure projects took center stage in the multi-billion-dollar budget proposal the House released Saturday. To complete the projects, the budget pulls money from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Democratic Policy Chair Rep. Fentrice Driskell in a press conference Monday criticized the “sweep” of the Sadowski trust.
“We know that Floridians who spend more than 30% of their income on housing, it makes them so cash strapped that they’re not always able to afford other basic necessities. This was a problem before the pandemic, and it certainly has been worsened by the pandemic,” Driskell said.
The House proposes using money from the Sadowski trust on water-related infrastructure, which has been a stated priority of the Governor. The House budget proposal splits funds from the Sadowski trust into thirds: one-third for a wastewater infrastructure program, one-third to combat sea-level rise and the final third to remain in the affordable housing fund.
It’s not unusual for funds from the Sadowski trust to be diverted into general revenue for other projects, but the Governor fully funded the Sadowski trust in his budget proposal this year, proving affordable housing is a priority for him. DeSantis included $423 million in affordable housing in his proposal released at the end of January.
It follows a pattern from the Governor. During pandemic-related budget slashing last year, the Governor also kept the Sadowski fund intact, and he kept the Sadowski trust funded in a budget proposed in November of 2019.
But while both Democrats and DeSantis want to fund the Sadowski trust, in the same press conference, Democratic Caucus Co-Leader, Rep. Evan Jenne criticized the budget for giving the Governor a “slush fund.”
Section 96 of the House budget proposal authorizes DeSantis to spend $700 million on “response and recovery activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“This is not a slight at the Governor,” said Jenne. “Giving any politician essentially a slush fund worth billions and billions of dollars to use as he or she sees fit – there are some major concerns in there.”
Another major concern from the Democrats on the House budget was over health care funding. Jenne criticized the House’s budget proposal for removing funding from the Lawton Chiles Endowment fund. That fund was established by the Legislature in 1999 for health and human services maintenance and research using a portion of the state’s tobacco settlement monies.
“How you can sweep a billion dollars, and take a billion dollars from there in the midst of a pandemic is kind of beyond me,” Jenne said.
The budget proposals are the first of a multistep reconciliation process. The House’s proposal included $4.4. billion dollars of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan, money the Senate has not yet allocated in its budget. But with control of both chambers and the executive branch, Democrats are unlikely to get much say.
“We’re not consulted on a whole lot of how the overall budget looks. I think you can see that’s very apparent when you have the nearly billion-dollar sweep and decimation of the Lawton Chiles Endowment that goes to help with public health crisis and public health in general,” Jenne said.