Budget conference: Lawmakers agree on how to spend $3.5 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/4/22-House Appropriations Chair Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, left, and Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, during the first appropriations conference meeting, Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The money was approved by Congress last year to help states cope with the economic downfall brought by COVID-19.

Construction projects at colleges, a program to install broadband internet infrastructure in rural areas, projects to protect against the impact of climate change, and land conservation programs were the main winners of a deal sealed Wednesday evening by lawmakers to spend nearly $3.5 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds.

The money was approved by Congress last year to help states cope with the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida isn’t set to receive the money until May.

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to put $558 million into higher education construction projects and $843.7 million for maintenance projects at universities and colleges. K-12 schools will receive $64.4 million in construction funds.

Another $400 million was set aside for the Broadband Opportunity Program. The state’s Rural & Family Lands Protection Program will receive $300 million, and $55 million was approved for the state to buy more land for conservation.

There’s $200 million to supplant the revenue the state will lose as part of a one-month moratorium on the gas tax starting Oct. 1 — one-fifth of the $1 billion five-month gas tax moratorium requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lawmakers also partially approved another DeSantis request for the Job Growth Grant Fund, which allows DeSantis to give out grants to local governments and state colleges for transportation and job training projects. DeSantis asked for $100 million but the program will get $50 million in the final budget deal.

A similar grant program will be created by the Legislative Budget Commission, which will develop rules for issuing grants to local governments, setting aside $175 million for the purpose.

Gray Rohrer


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