It’s not very often the governor makes a public appearance in Zephyrhills, let alone to make a major statewide announcement.
But that’s what happened on June 2, when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appeared at Zephyrhills City Hall for a state budget-signing ceremony — penning into law a record-setting $101.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2021-2022.
The invite-only press conference drew several dozens of area residents, business owners and government officials, in a standing-room only affair.
“It’s great to be in Pasco County,” DeSantis said, opening his speech. “It’s great to be here.”
The Republican governor was accompanied by several members of the Republican-led state legislature, including Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor), state Rep. Randy Maggard (R-Dade City), state Rep. Ardian Zika (R-Land O’ Lakes), state Sen. Danny Burgess, (R-Zephyrhills), state Rep. Amber Mariano (R-Hudson), and state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), among others.
As for dropping by the City of Pure Water, DeSantis acknowledged plans to stop somewhere in the Tampa Bay region for one of his multiple budget-signing ceremonies. He took input from Simpson and others for an ideal spot in Pasco — which figured to be Zephyrhills’ multimillion dollar statuesque municipal building built in 2018.
The trip from Tallahassee also coincided with particularly strong results for Zephyrhills and the greater East Pasco area, which combined to receive over $40 million in appropriations alone, including:
- $25 million for new facilities at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Dade City Campus
- $6.5 million for water and wastewater improvements on Handcart Road
- $4.6 million for improvements to the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center
- $3 million for improvements to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport
- $25 million for a new Florida National Guard armory somewhere in Zephyrhills
Altogether, DeSantis stated the county and region “did very well” in the latest budget, and therefore “should feel very proud.”
The governor observed Florida’s largest budget in history overall was made possible because the state reopened more rapidly compared to others across the United States, resulting in unexpected economic and revenue boosts amid the coronavirus crisis.
Governor lauds reopening state
“We made a decision,” DeSantis said, “as other states kept locking their citizens down, we lift people up in Florida.”
Aside from the $101.5 billion, the 2021-2022 budget leaves another $9.5 billion in reserves, for hurricane relief and other unforeseen circumstances.
It also implements a program designed to cut taxes by $169 million and includes the first seven-day freedom week sales tax holiday, a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday and a 10-day disaster preparedness sales tax holiday.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’ vetoes totaled $1.5 billion from this session. He labeled the cuts as mainly “back of the bill” items related to the state’s general and trust funds.
Relatedly, the governor pointed out Florida’s budget is less than half of New York State’s $212 billion mark, despite having “millions of fewer people than we do.”
He added: “We’re very prudent with how we spend our money.”
Throughout the 30-minute briefing, DeSantis hyped up the budget’s commitment to issues regarding education, environmental protection, and mental health.
Said DeSantis, “I think, all thing’s considered, you look at a lot of the major issues, and I think the legislature did a really good job to address all of the key issues, so I thank them for that.”
On the education front, there’s roughly $23 billion for the kindergarten through 12th grade system, plus $2 billion for early childhood education. The budget also includes $1,000 bonuses for teachers and principals in the state’s public and charter schools “because they had to work extra hard,” during the pandemic, DeSantis said.
About $2.5 billion is set to address mental health and substance abuse across all associated agencies. DeSantis specifically cited $137.6 million for community-based services for adults and children with behavioral health needs; $120 million for school-related mental health initiatives; and, $5.5 million for youth mental health awareness and assistance.
Noteworthy environmental-related response includes a $500 million stormwater infrastructure grant program — with another $100 million in recurring funds — where Florida cities and communities can apply as needed. There’s also $155 million for beach renourishment, “which is important when you have 1,300 miles of coastline,” DeSantis said.
Another notable budget item: $1,000 bonuses for roughly 175,000 first responders throughout Florida, including police, fire and other emergency medical personnel.
DeSantis underscored the challenges of such jobs throughout the pandemic, as reasoning for creating the bonus pool.
“We understood when COVID hit, there’s folks in white-collar jobs that could work from home, or remote, but the people in uniform have to show up every day.
“They can’t keep the streets safe on Zoom, you can’t put out a fire on Zoom, you’ve just gotta be there, and they were there from the very beginning, day in and day out,” he said.
The governor overall was bullish on the Sunshine State during his in-town visit, emphasizing the increasing number people who’ve relocated and vacationed here — be it related to climate and weather, property values, or fewer COVID-19 restrictions.
“We really served as kind of a respite for other citizens of our country in states that were chafing under these lockdowns,” he said. “I can tell you, I think there’s a lot of people in the last year, year-and-a-half, that have said, ‘Thank God I live in Florida.’”
Meantime, the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus released a joint statement on the day of the governor’s budget signing:
“Thanks to President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress passing the ‘American Rescue Plan,’ the governor can tout a state budget that helps Florida recover from the pandemic, allocating billions for the environment, public schools, and community health care. A big chunk of the $10 billion from the federal stimulus act added to a bounty of transportation and economic development projects all over the state. The money even allowed the governor to dole out $1,000 bonuses to law enforcement, firefighters, and other frontline emergency workers,” the statement reads.
“Unfortunately, as he took his victory lap to hand out the bonuses, and brag about the many programs rescued as a result of the federal help, the governor never once directed thanks to those who made this possible. It was a crass example of freeloading off the hard work of others he doesn’t want to acknowledge because he doesn’t agree with their politics. Shame on the governor. When the president and congressional Democrats stepped up to the plate, there were no political litmus tests. There was only the question of how to help. And how to do so quickly.”
Published June 09, 2021