Florida’s final $92.2 billion budget reflects a billion dollars in projects and programs vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The governor blamed the economic impacts of COVID-19 for forcing the budget cuts — which included numerous initiatives in Pasco County.
“As the budget was coming due, we started to see the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed the trajectory of the nation’s economy and obviously the economy here in Florida. And has, of course, affected the budget balances,” DeSantis explained in a televised news conference when he signed the budget on June 29.
“As we were looking at the budget, my goal was to try to safeguard the historic achievements that we were able to do, while also realizing historic savings, so that we could put Florida on a more solid fiscal foundation,” the governor said.
The budget “provides significant support for education, the environment, infrastructure, child welfare and more,” he said.
He also noted that, in light of Florida’s population growth, per capita spending has declined, as compared to the previous year’s budget.
“Everyone understands that circumstances have changed,” DeSantis said. Still, he added, “I don’t think we necessarily forecast the economy simply stopping for a time.”
The budget puts a high priority on teacher salaries.
“We wanted to take Florida from the bottom half of the country in average minimum salary to the top five. It was not an easy fight, there were a lot of folks who didn’t want to do that.
“We were able to get $500 million to increase the average minimum salary in the state of Florida for K-12 teachers, as well as including money for salary increases for teachers who are more seasoned, and other eligible personnel.
“We are now in the top five for average minimum salary. I think this is really a historic achievement,” DeSantis said.
Also, “we do have the highest funding ever for K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) schools, with an increase of $137 per student,” he said.
The state’s college and universities also received increases, and the state continued its commitment to restoring the Everglades and state waterways, and improving water quality, the governor said.
The budget also fully funds the Florida Department of Transportation’s $9.2 billion work program, which DeSantis said is necessary, as the state continues to grow.
There’s also $8.7 million in new funding to support the Office of Public and Professional Guardianship to help ensure the legal rights of older Floridians are protected, and eliminate abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly population, he said.
Plus, the budget also includes more than $138 million in state and federal funding to address the opioid epidemic, and $8 million to continue providing community-based behavioral health services.
Still, the governor vetoed pages and pages of projects and programs.
“These were not easy decisions,” DeSantis said.
“These were difficult circumstances. I want people to know, particularly those in the Legislature, that there were obviously things that I vetoed that I think there could be good policy. There are specific projects in there, that under normal circumstances, I would have supported.”
Locally, initiatives such as a stand-alone senior center in Dade City, a landscaping beautification project along U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes and an archive center at Florida Pioneer Museum will have to wait or find another funding source.
But, not all was lost.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore said he’s gratified that hard work by Pasco’s legislative delegation resulted in getting many projects into the original budget.
He’s also pleased that some county initiatives gained funding.
“I am thankful the Governor did approve two Pasco projects worth just under $8 million dollars for needed infrastructure improvements,” Moore said, via email.
Those projects are the Lacoochee industrial area right-of-way improvements for approximately $5.5 million, and the U.S. 301/Pretty Pond and Medical Arts Court Intersection Improvements estimated at $2.3 million.
Moore also noted that in comparison with some other areas in the state, Pasco County fared well. The commission chairman also said the lack of state funding won’t kill all of the projects that were vetoed.
“At the moment, Pasco County staff is still reviewing options for the vetoed projects; we do expect some will move forward although they may be delayed from original timelines. As an example, the Quail Hollow stormwater improvement project has already pursued alternative grant funding from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) we are awaiting final word on,” Moore said.
Here are some of the projects or programs within and near The Laker/Lutz News coverage area that were included in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto list:
- Saint Leo University, Robotics Bachelor’s Degree and Micro-credential program: $1.25 million
- Pepin Academies Foundation, $1.5 million
- Metropolitan Ministries Miracles for Pasco, $250,000
- Pasco County Handcart Road Water and Wastewater, $5.75 million
- CARES One Stop Senior Center in Dade City, $750,0000
- Pasco County Quail Hollow Boulevard, South, $850,000
- Land O’ Lakes U.S. 41 landscape rehabilitation, $850,000
- Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center, Zephyrhills: $1 million
- FIRST Economic Development Incubator, Land O’ Lakes: $750,000
- Pioneer Florida Museum Association Inc. Archives Center Pasco: $100,000
State budget highlights
Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a news conference when he unveiled the state’s final $92.2 billion budget. Here is a look at some budget highlights he mentioned:
- $500 million to increase teacher salaries
- $137 increase in spending, per student in K-12
- $25 million increase in mental health programs for schools
- $22.8 million increase for Florida colleges, bringing total to $1.3 billion in state operating funds
- $44.4 million increase for Florida’s universities, bringing total to $2.7 billion
- $322 million for Everglades Restoration; $50 million for springs restoration; $160 million for targeted water quality improvements; $40 million for alternative water supply; $25 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide
- $2.3 million to implement the first statewide threat assessment strategy in the country
- $17.3 million to begin transitioning correctional officers from a 12-hour shift to an 8.5-hour shift
- $15 million to fund prevention programs for at-risk youth
Published July 15, 2020