Gov. Ron DeSantis has axed more than $6 million in funding for Palm Beach County, including $3 million in state money for an infrastructure project in the county’s central historic region.
DeSantis made the cuts as he signed the state’s $101.5 billion 2021-22 budget Wednesday.
Florida’s Governor has line item veto power, meaning he can decide which individual items to veto while still signing the overall budget. Each year, a number of projects end up on the chopping block.
The $3 million Palm Beach infrastructure project was the largest line item project DeSantis cut in the state, though he also axed $1 billion in emergency preparedness money courtesy of the American Rescue Plan and tens of millions in trust fund dollars.
Democratic Rep. David Silvers, who chairs the Palm Beach legislative delegation, sponsored the bill asking for $3 million to help modify roadways in Palm Beach County’s central historic region.
“The funds secured through this project will mitigate stormwater runoff and pollutant loading into local water systems through the enhancement of existing roadway infrastructure within the central historic region of Palm Beach County,” the bill explained.
The item was among a list from Florida TaxWatch, which suggested proposed vetoes for the Governor. DeSantis agreed with the organization and axed almost all of the $5 million worth of recommended vetoes in Palm Beach County. But DeSantis went even further, cutting another few line items to total $6 million in cuts for the county.
That’s larger than the $4.2 million in cuts for Broward County and $3 million in cuts for Miami-Dade County, which were among the DeSantis’ veto list Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Mike Caruso also asked for $630,000 for a female teen delinquency care center in Palm Beach County. That too was cut from the budget Wednesday.
Two other proposals for $250,000 each which were sponsored by Caruso were also vetoed. One pot of money would have aimed to reduce dropout rates among students needing to care for a family member. Another chunk would have gone toward improvements at the Owens Baker water storage tank in Delray Beach.
“I was disappointed, but I’m just the state Representative,” Caruso said of the news. “The Governor’s got the overall responsibility for it, and I was pleased with what I did get.”
Caruso also pointed to 10 other proposals he sponsored which did make the final budget, totaling around $25 million. While he lost out on just over $1 million in funds for his district, Caruso says he’ll be back to push those projects during the 2022 Legislative Session.
“We’ll definitely come back next year. They’re great programs or I wouldn’t have funded them and worked so hard on them.”
Caruso said youth projects were his biggest priorities among the funding bills he put forward last Session because of their immediate impact in the community.
“If it comes down to a water project that gets vetoed, that’s a whole different story because water projects one year can wait until the next year and nobody’s life is really going to change,” he said. “But these youth programs, we’re changing lives. We’re doing good. And they’ll go on even without the state money, but hopefully we can come back next year and get it funded.”
Also included in the list of vetoed Palm Beach County projects was $450,000 for a signalized pedestrian and bicycle crossing on Okeechobee Boulevard in Royal Palm Beach. Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, was not happy with the decision.
“I’m not sure why that project was picked out. I think it was reasonable,” Willhite told Florida Politics. “I’m really disappointed because as the western communities of Palm Beach County continue to grow, we need to grow with them. And state funding is a vital part to supporting that infrastructure growth.”
The proposal included $450,000 in matching local funds, totaling $900,000.
“It’s not like I was just asking for hand-me-outs,” Willhite added. “The community has a stake in the game by matching funds, and so it disappoints me.”
Willhite has announced his plans to seek a Palm Beach County Commission seat after the 2022 Legislative Session. He said DeSantis’ decision to cut the Royal Palm Beach funds conflicts with his advocacy for more people to move to the state.
“They’re moving to a lot of these areas that I’m working in, in western Palm Beach County,” Willhite said of those flocking to Florida. “How do we now support that, yet still want to go out there and talk about how we want people to move here?”
Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg hit DeSantis as well after he cut $150,000 for the Rales Rides service which offers transportation to seniors for medical appointments and food shopping. Slosberg told Florida Politics she was “disappointed” in DeSantis’ decision.
“This important project serves the House District with the second oldest demographic in the state and provides critical transportation to an underserved and disadvantaged community,” Slosberg said. “This project is vital for our most frail and vulnerable population.”
DeSantis also vetoed nearly $1 million in funding proposed by Democratic Rep. Joe Casello to help low-income, elderly and disabled residents in Palm Beach County afford public transportation via discounted bus passes.
Other Palm Beach County projects which were vetoed include:
— $80,000 to reduce learning loss among students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sponsored by Sen. Lori Berman
— $75,000 for an ADA-accessible pedestrian crossing in the Boynton Beach town square, sponsored by Rep. Casello
— $75,000 to offer reduced-cost services at the Faulk Center for Counseling, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Skidmore
— $50,000 to research a gene therapy cure for TECPR2, a rare genetic disease, sponsored by Rep. Slosberg