Gov. DeSantis signs $116.5B budget, vetoes $511M of mostly local earmarks

RON DESANTIS BILL SIGNING (9)
It includes across-the-board raises for state employees and a landmark investment in affordable and workforce housing incentives.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has approved Florida’s budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24, a $116.5 billion spending plan 6% larger than its predecessor, despite more than half a billion dollars worth of vetoed items.

Legislators apportioned more money this year for K-12 schools, health care programs, environmental projects and raises for state workers, among other earmarks, while setting aside almost $15.3 billion in reserves.

State lawmakers OK’d the budget last month. Its title: “Framework for Freedom.”

DeSantis signed it Thursday after crossing out $511 million of mostly local appropriations, a far smaller sum than the $3.1 billion he excised from last year’s plan.

Among the biggest-ticket vetoes: $100 million for conservation easements and rural land protection agreements, $30.8 million to acquire Kirkland Ranch for water and conservation purposes and $20 million to expand nursing and STEM-related programs at the University of South Florida.

“We’ve done more in the last six to eight months since the election than any, I think, state has done in our lifetime to move the ball forward and be bold and take on these issues,” he said at the Pelican Yacht Club in Fort Pierce before putting pen to paper.

“If you look at how we handle our budget versus how Washington handles its budget, we run big budget surpluses in the state of Florida. We are able to do things that make a difference in people’s lives by not wasting money, but by spending it on things that really have a great impact on the general public. So, we’re fiscal stewards. We want to be a good place to be a citizen, and we respect taxpayers and we respect that not only by taxing lightly but by spending reasonably.”

“That’s one of the reasons why people … keep flooding down here. You know, I’m not asking anybody to come,” he added. “The state’s in great shape. The state’s going in the right direction. You’re not going to see us have the type of problems that these other states have with fiscal insolvency.”

The Governor pointed to Florida’s current unemployment rate of 2.6% and the roughly 4% unemployment in New York and California. He noted the federal debt is larger than its yearly economic output. By comparison, he said, Florida’s debt is about $17 billion, or about “a percent and a half ratio.”

“Particularly since COVID, we’ve outperformed the country dramatically on just about all these metrics,” he said.

Florida’s $20 billion surplus this past year, $800 million more than in the prior fiscal year, will help offset a permanent sales tax exemption in the state for all baby and toddler items, adult diaper and incontinence products, and oral hygiene products.

There will be two back-to-school tax holidays for the fall and spring semesters and two disaster preparedness sales tax breaks, each lasting 14 days. Those are expected to save Floridians more than $300 million combined.

The Governor signed off on a one-year, $6.9 million sales tax exemption on gas stoves, a recent point of contention in the ongoing culture war. Other exemptions include a three-month tax break on outdoor recreational purchases, event and location tickets, children’s toys and athletic equipment; a seven-day skilled worker tool sale; a permanent sales tax exemption for gun safes and lockboxes, and a 1% reduction in business rent taxes estimated to save companies $256 million beginning Dec. 1.

There’s more, he said. State workers will see an across-the-board 5% pay increase. Correctional officers’ starting pay will rise to $22 per hour. Agencies will also have $96.5 million more combined to spend at their discretion on consolidation, recruitment and retention as the government responds to higher competing wages in the private sector.

Following through on a pre-Session request Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez made in January, the budget includes more funding for additional raises for Assistant State Attorneys and public defenders.

It also increases the starting salary of correctional officers to $45,760 yearly ($22 per hour) and provides funding for bonuses at high-vacancy facilities, which will have further funds to give educational and maintenance staff raises beyond 5%.

Aside from those boosts, there are massive tranches for infrastructure, transportation, human services, education and hurricane relief efforts, among other things.

Health and human services

Budget earmarks for state agencies focused on health and human services total $47.3 billion, with three of every four dollars spent going to the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which employs about 1,540 workers.

Big spending by AHCA includes $182.6 million for the Florida Medicaid Management Information System, $139.3 million for the Graduate Medical Education program — a medical residency initiative for doctors in training — and $130.7 million for children’s hospitals across the state.

The agency will also apportion $125 million for nursing home reimbursements, $76.1 million for pediatric physicians, $73.5 million to cover Medicaid provider rate increases and $60.3 million for the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), among many other expenditures.

Another $4.7 billion will go to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which employs nearly 13,000 workers. DCF spending includes $173.5 million for opioid treatment, prevention and recovery from opioid settlement funds; $156.3 million for community-based mental health and substance abuse block grants; and $77.9 million for forensic beds at state mental health treatment facilities.

The agency also has another $110.6 million to increase access to medication-assisted opioid treatment through a statewide “Opioid Response Grant,” $35 million to modernize its child welfare programs and $7.4 million to facilitate the full transfer of child protection investigation duties from Sheriffs to DCF.

The Department of Health, which also employs nearly 13,000 workers, received $3.8 billion. The Department of Elder Affairs got $482.5 million, while the Department of Veterans’ Affairs received $201 million.

There’s also $190 million set aside for cancer research, an issue the Governor said First Lady Casey DeSantis, a breast cancer survivor, helped to spearhead.

Education

The package includes $26.8 billion for K-12 schools, 46% of which is local dollars. It’s a 9% spending increase from the current fiscal year equal to $8,648 per student.

There’s $252 million to increase new and veteran teacher salaries, bringing the statewide total to $1 billion; and $40 million more for safe-school programs, totaling $250 million altogether for on-campus officers and safety initiatives.

It also has $825 million set aside for the state’s new “Education Enrichment Allocation,” which will provide grant assistance to school districts for activities that support and increase students’ academic achievement.

“Our performance in terms of (National Assessment of Educational Progress achievement levels and) scores and where we rank now compared now to the per-pupil (scores of other states) — we’re getting a great bang for our buck in Florida,” DeSantis said. “We’re generating good results and better results than states that are putting more money into it.”

Lawmakers put more money into the main funding formula for schools known as the base student allocation and eliminated dedicated funding for instructional materials, reading instruction and teacher classroom supplies, among other items. The change is intended to give schools more budgetary flexibility.

Another $1.6 billion is earmarked for early learning services, a sum separate from the K-12 apportionment.

The budget also includes $10 million in first-come, first-served funds for teacher recruitment among military veterans and retired first responders, who will be able to forgo initial certification and exam fees. The first 2,000 hired will get $4,000 apiece. Another $1,000 will go to individuals teaching in critical shortage areas.

The State University System will get $3.7 billion for operations, with roughly 10% of that going toward performance-based funding. The Florida College System will receive $1.7 billion, while student financial aid is on track to get more than $1 billion, including $590.7 million for Bright Futures scholarships.

Private colleges will get $217.2 million, more than half of which will cover Effective Access to Student Education (EASE), which provides tuition assistance to Florida undergraduates. The budget increases per-student EASE awards from $2,000 to $3,500, a $59.4 million uptick.

It also sets aside $635 million for school district workforce development, $250.4 million for vocational rehabilitation services, $100 million for workforce capitalization grants and $61 million to cover educational and community rehabilitation services for the blind and visually impaired.

DeSantis railed against what he characterized as comparatively useless programs in higher education institutions, noting Florida has increased the number of apprenticeships statewide since he took office.

“(It makes no sense) to go $100,000, $150,000 in debt and then end up with a degree in zombie studies, and then you end up in a job you could have had out of high school,” he said. “There’s nothing magical about a piece of paper.”

Transportation, tourism, economic development and housing

Florida will spend $21 billion on transportation, tourism, economic development and housing. The preponderance of that, $13.6 billion, will fund work programs under the Department of Transportation, which will receive an additional $1.6 billion to pay for 6,176 worker salaries and cover the cost of local transportation road projects, among other things.

A $2.8 billion set-aside will go to the Division of Emergency Management, mostly to fund disaster and pandemic response and recovery efforts reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) will get $1.82 billion for a variety of initiatives, including $170.9 million for the State Small Business Credit Initiative, $112.9 million to expand broadband internet services, $118 million for housing and community development projects and $80 million for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation.

DEO spending also includes $75 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund, $25 million for the Rural Infrastructure Fund and $22.8 million for reemployment assistance and tax service provision.

There’s also $711 million for affordable and workforce housing assistance and incentives through the Live Local Act, a major spending package lawmakers passed to fund the state’s Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Funds, which include the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP), State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) and Hometown Heroes programs.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will receive $578.6 million, while $296.1 million will go to the Department of Military Affairs and $220.5 million will go to the Department of State.

Agriculture, environment and general government

State spending on agriculture, the environment and general government amounts to $11.3 billion.

“This is the largest environmental budget in the history of our state,” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said. “The fact that the funding is following the policy speaks to the Governor’s commitment to our environment.”

DEP, which employs more than 3,000 people, will get $3.8 billion, plus $1.6 billion for Everglades restoration.

Other big eco-related tranches include $1 billion for Florida Forever conservation and land acquisition programs, most of which will go toward the 18-million-acre Florida Wildlife Corridor. There’s also $1 billion for a variety of water quality improvement initiatives across the state, $300 million for a flood and sea-level rise program, $251 million for beach erosion and water infrastructure projects, and $100 million for Florida Forever, the state’s “premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will receive $3 billion, including $17.5 million for food assistance through Farm Share and Feeding Florida.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is trying to add to its current 2,178 positions this year, will receive $517.6 million.

About $903.5 million will go to the Department of Management Services. There’ll also be $717.3 million for the Department of Revenue, $679.3 million for the Department of Financial Services (including $102 million for the renewed house-hardening My Safe Florida Home program), $223.3 million for the Florida Lottery and $172.1 million for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Criminal and civil justice

The budget includes $6.7 billion for criminal and civil justice costs. About half that sum will go to the Department of Corrections, Florida’s largest state agency and the third-largest prison system in the country, with 23,677 employees, 80,000 prisoners and some 146,000 offenders under supervision in the community.

The allocation includes $107 million for health services, $39.3 million to expand prisoner education programs and close to $20 million to aid private prison operations. There’s also $1 million set aside for recruiting 12 additional positions within the department.

The Justice Administrative Commission, which provides administrative services for 49 judicial-related offices, will receive $1.2 billion to fund ongoing operations, the salaries of 10,716 workers and a handful of programs to shore up staffing and vehicle gaps for judges, state attorneys and public defenders.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will get $490.9 million, inclusive of $20 million for the State Assistance for Fentanyl Eradication (SAFE) program, $5.7 million to increase pay for police in fiscally constrained counties, $5 million for community violence intervention and prevention grants and $1 million to hire 11 staff positions for the state’s E-Verify system tracking immigrant hires.

The Department will also receive $10.7 million for protective services staffing, $8.2 million to modernize its Biometric Identification Solutions (BIS) system, $7.5 million for state trooper raises, $3.6 million to transition to new alcohol breath-test instruments, $2.4 million to upgrade technology and hire more workers at the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse, and $2 million to buy new body armor for local police.

The State Court System will receive $712.7 million, including $9 million to build the Bernie McCabe Second District Court of Appeal Courthouse, while the Department of Juvenile Justice will receive $666.2 million. Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Department of Legal Affairs, which she oversees, will get $362.1 million.

Hurricane relief and recovery

Lawmakers approved $3.7 billion for hurricane relief and recovery, the largest tranche of which, $1.4 billion, will go into the Emergency Preparedness Response Program, more than double what they earmarked during a Special Session on hurricane relief last year.

They also set aside $500 million for the Emergency Preparedness Response Fund, $150 million for recovery efforts through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, $60 million for local governments to assist individuals impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and $90 million to the Rental Recovery Loan Program to promote development and rehabilitation of affordable rental housing in affected areas.

The Division of Emergency Management will get $350 million to disburse as recovery grants for affected communities, while the Florida Department of Transportation will have $75.2 million to cover bridge repair and replacement costs in Lee County.

There’s also a one-time, $50 million appropriation for the Local Government Emergency Bridge Loan program, which is meant to fund local hurricane response and bridge repair efforts while additional funding sources are secured.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


6 comments

  • Dont Say FLA

    June 15, 2023 at 3:24 pm

    There’s another $511 million to pay for the Rhonda campaign. Prove it ain’t true, Rhonda. Un-Exempt your expenditures from Sunshine law FOIA requests. If you have nothing to hide, Rhonda, why did you have the law changed to allow you to hide every dollar the State of Florida is paying for your campaing, Casey’s white gloves, and your precious white boots? Why Rhonda, Why? Why hide State of Florida expenditures on your behalf just because you’re funding your campaign on the backs of all Floridians?

    • Jenibell

      June 16, 2023 at 8:33 pm

      Wht proof is there for that crazy democrat belief? Who’s paying for Bidens campaign? I knw he’s not getting $$ from anyone else that has common sense!

  • Ed Slaveen Worldwide 👍

    June 15, 2023 at 11:11 pm

    Workforce housing…the right wing buzzword for public housing with a capitalist spin..grift! Gotta maintain current class structure at all costs. Thou shalt live check to check if you weren’t born into money or the GOP can’t sleep at night.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    June 16, 2023 at 7:42 am

    These two Far left mouth frothing comments reveal the reason why they can never be permitted to govern

  • Ana Biden

    June 16, 2023 at 11:08 am

    He needs the money to pay for his undocumented flights to non-government related meetings, and to fight law suits he instigates, both of which are paid for by tax payers expense. No mouth frothing here fascist; an expression of political freedom protected by the constitution. That’s why “they” will be defeated again on next elections.

  • Just Wondering

    June 18, 2023 at 8:12 am

    Can anyone explain why money is flowing into the Florida Lottery? Shouldn’t this be self-supporting?

Comments are closed.


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