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Florida governor proposes $4.3B budget increase

January 28, 2021 GMT
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the media at the River Garden Hebrew House for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., on the status of COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the media at the River Garden Hebrew House for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., on the status of COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed the media at the River Garden Hebrew House for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., on the status of COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a $96.6 billion budget on Thursday for the fiscal year that begins July 1, an increase of $4.3 billion over the current budget despite the economic hit the state has taken during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the increase can be attributed to a proposed $2.6 billion in additional spending for the state’s COVID-19 response and another $3 billion in Medicaid costs.

Still, DeSantis is proposing about $1 billion in cuts to government agencies and administrative costs, with recommended reductions at more than a dozen state agencies.

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The governor said the state is in a better financial situation than expected because of his decision to fully reopen Florida to business, saying that it will not have to dip into savings to make up a shortfall in the $92.2 billion budget he signed last June.

“While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up. We believe every job is essential,” DeSantis said. “If you work in a restaurant, we have your back. If you are a hairstylist, we protect your right to earn a living. And if you are a parent, we ensure your kids have the right to attend school in person. Lockdowns do not work.”

The Legislature doesn’t have to follow his recommendations and DeSantis will eventually receive a budget the House and Senate agree on. He does have an ability to veto specific items from the budget eventually sent to him.

Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne called DeSantis’s budget “a piece of fiction.”

“I don’t know where he plans on getting the money from,” Jenne said. “Then I remembered it’s the governor’s proposed budget and it’s an absolute fairytale every single year irrespective of whatever governor’s in there. At this point, it’s a 24-hour PR thing so they can say, ‘Look at all the good stuff I asked them to do! And, uh, they just didn’t do it.’”

DeSantis said he isn’t proposing new or increased taxes or fees.

DeSantis said between the $1 billion in cuts he made before signing the current budget, state agencies holding back on spending, federal relief money and revenues far exceeding the worst-case projections last August, the state won’t have to make cuts to this year’s spending plan.

“We’re in better shape because we made decisions that benefited the state, and I think other areas have done things that have really, really destroyed their societies, their economies. Maybe they’ll come back but I think it’s going to be a lot easier for Florida because we took a lot of steps early and we kept the state afloat,” he said.

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The governor is proposing a $344 million increase in education spending, including money to continue to raise teacher salaries and to boost spending on mental health programs in schools.

“Although Florida opened schools and although we had activities over the summer — kids are much happier here than in some of these other parts of the country — there’s going to be mental health fallout even under the best of circumstances, so we want to be ready for that,” DeSantis said.

He also wants nearly $277 million more for the Department of Economic Opportunity, which struggled to keep up with unemployment claims during the pandemic.

But among his suggested cuts: $60 million at the Department of Environmental Protection, $45 million at the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, $32 million at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $25 million at the Department of State.

Overall, DeSantis is proposing 324 new full-time state jobs, but the increase is deceptive. There are 406 new proposed jobs at the Department of Corrections to allow it to reduce corrections officers’ shifts from 12 hours to 8.5. Otherwise, there’s an overall cut in state jobs, including 62 at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and 48 at the Department of Revenue.

Senate President Wilton Simpson didn’t immediately react to the governor’s proposal. Spokeswoman Katie Betta said he would be briefed on it by his staff later Thursday and that he looked forward to the governor’s staff giving a detailed presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal.