Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a $99.7 billion “Freedom First” budget for the coming fiscal year.
Touting Florida’s economic strength through the COVID-19 pandemic despite fears of an economic collapse, the Governor doubled down on his policies since March 2020 while unveiling his proposals for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The economy is “working on all cylinders,” DeSantis said.
“Freedom works in Florida. We’re proud of that,” he said. “We’re proud of being viewed as the ‘free state,’ and I think that the economic results are something that have been very, very positive.”
In June, the Governor signed a $101.5 billion budget, the largest budget in state history. A few billion of those funds, enough to put the final budget over $100 billion for the first time ever, were federal pandemic relief dollars.
Additional spending within the “back of the bill” for the 2022-23 budget would put Florida’s total expenditures for the coming fiscal year over $100 billion.
The budget also leaves more than $15 billion in reserves. If Florida’s economy continues exceeding expectations, the Governor predicted proposed reserves could hit $17 billion by the time the budget takes effect in July.
“As you see economic storms on the horizon with a lot of what’s going on nationally, we would be in an excellent position to be able to weather those storms,” DeSantis said.
Priorities within the budget include education, environmental revitalization and support for law enforcement. School teachers would again get $1,000 bonuses under his proposal, and DeSantis wants to expand efforts to draw more people into law enforcement careers.
The Governor’s budget includes a $1 billion state gas tax relief, an attempt to combat rising gas prices.
“We also understand, though, as we’ve seen inflation take off in various sectors of our economy, that Floridians need relief from that,” DeSantis said. “While we can’t change the policies in Washington that are driving that, we can do our best to step up and provide relief for Florida families who need it.”
Staying with the “freedom” theme, the Governor wants lawmakers to renew the “Freedom Week” sales tax holiday on events and outdoor activities around the Fourth of July.
The budget proposal also includes $453.1 million in pay increases for law enforcement, correctional, detention and probation officers, as well as firefighters and state employees.
Business groups, including the Associated Industries of Florida, lauded DeSantis’ budget proposal.
“Governor DeSantis’ focus on fostering freedom and prosperity is undoubtedly helping our state economy thrive and creating a brighter future for all Floridians,” said Associated Industries of Florida President Brewster Bevis. “This proposed budget continues that important work with significant investments in our environment and science-based water quality projects, a high-quality education system, vital transportation projects and workforce development.”
Billions in federal aid — coupled with an economic recovery despite the ongoing pandemic — give DeSantis a tremendous budget surplus. State economists in August estimated the state would have a $7.3 billion surplus in its general revenue account heading into the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Because a large chunk of the cushion stems from nonrecurring revenue, how lawmakers can spend it is limited.
Lawmakers won’t rely on the August forecast since economists are scheduled to meet again in late January. Since that time, monthly tax collections have continued to exceed previous estimates.
State revenue exceeded prepandemic estimates by more than $3 billion over the previous and current two fiscal years.
However, the latest gross domestic product estimate shows the state’s economy still growing, but at a more normal rate. Growth was around 7% for the first two quarters of this year, but the 2021-22 GDP estimate is down to 4.5% growth. That will continue falling to 2.5% during the next three fiscal years.
Although a Washington court has struck down DeSantis’ Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe, the Governor is including the anticipated revenue from that deal in his budget while the state awaits a ruling in its appeal. That amounts to $500 million in general revenue.
On Tuesday, House Democrats laid out their own budget priorities with a focus on providing for the needs of “everyday Floridians.” Their priorities include public education funding for all school staff, affordable housing assistance, health care benefits, social services, and tax help for those who are not big corporations.
“Quite frankly, just looking at the numbers, taking all politics out of it, at the end of the day, we’re going to be much better for their prosperity, we’re going to be much better for their health, and we’re going to be much better if you’re just a human being walking around in the state of Florida,” House Minority Leader Evan Jenne said.
Democrats criticized DeSantis for keeping schools and businesses open. But that avoided destruction, DeSantis responded.
“We saved the livelihoods of so many people who are hardworking, who don’t have the luxury of working from home and we stood up for them time and time again,” DeSantis said.
Florida Politics reporter Christine Sexton contributed to this story.
December 9, 2021 at 12:20 pm
Notice he isn’t comparing Florida to any other states recovery.
Because the fact is evil locked down California bounced back faster and stronger than Texas or Florida.
December 9, 2021 at 12:22 pm
Oh yeah, and had almost half the death rate from covid.
DeDumbass is a complete and total failure on all points.
December 9, 2021 at 1:31 pm
Oh Yeah! Free at last, Free at last, Lord God Almighty Free at last..
The freedom to let any idiot have a firearm,
The freedom to allow unmasked kids to infect yours in schools
The freedom to allow parents to ban books they don’t like
the freedom to bully LGBTQ kids
The freedom to catch COVID from unvaccinated dummies
The freedom to give expert testimony or teach at universities.. oh yeah, scratch that one.
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