Here are the governor’s priorities in 2024-25 budget

Published on December 6, 2023 at 10:56 am

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday pitched a $114.4 billion budget for next fiscal year that includes a variety of tax cuts and spending on such things as teacher salary increases and police recruitment bonuses.

Dubbed the “Focus on Florida’s Future Budget,” the proposal asks lawmakers for an additional $5 million to continue a controversial program that has transported undocumented immigrants to Massachusetts and California and to set aside $1 million for potential legal expenses related to Florida State University being left out of the four-team college football playoffs.

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DeSantis, who rolled out the proposal at Marco Island Charter Middle School, said he didn’t believe FSU “can get relief” before games are played Jan. 1. But he said the money should be available “as a result of this really, really poor decision by the college football playoffs to exclude an undefeated team who won a big Power Five conference championship.” Undefeated FSU won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

The proposed fiscal 2024-2025 budget, which would be a decrease from a $119.1 billion spending plan for the current fiscal year, is a starting point for lawmakers. They will negotiate a budget during the 2024 legislative session, which will start Jan. 9.

Republican legislative leaders praised the proposal.

“I thought the governor had a lot of really important things there, things that we can be supportive of and we’ll work through the details,” House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said.

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DeSantis’ staff is scheduled to make presentations about the budget Wednesday to Senate committees. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, issued a statement that said the proposal “reflects many shared priorities.”

“I look forward to a full briefing later this week,” Passidomo added.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader, Lauren Book, D-Davie, said the package offers “hope” that people, rather than the insurance industry, will be prioritized. But she expressed concerns that the package would cut jobs, slash funding for arts and culture and direct money toward “unnecessary litigation.”

“The governor’s description of Florida as a dream is merely a delusion, with rising costs and no end in sight,” Book said in a prepared statement.

As DeSantis continues his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, he used the rollout to compare Florida to New York and the nation.

“This is a budget that is, I think, respecting the taxpayers of this state,” DeSantis said. “We are living within our means. We are even paying back expenses. We’re reducing the size of government. We’re cutting taxes. We’re eliminating more of our state debt. Yet, we also have record investment for education, record support for infrastructure, support for environmental restoration.”

Among the key proposals:

TAX CUTS: DeSantis is proposing $1.1 billion in tax breaks, including holding six sales tax “holidays” on such things as back-to-school items. The proposal also would provide $409 million to give a one-year exemption on certain taxes, fees and assessments on property insurance policies. Another $22 million would provide an exemption on insurance premium taxes on flood insurance policies. DeSantis also wants to permanently eliminate sales taxes on over-the-counter pet medications, projected as a $37 million savings.

ENVIRONMENT: The proposed budget would provide $745 million for Everglades restoration efforts. Also, it includes $157 million to brace against rising sea levels and to protect coral reefs, $100 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program and $20 million for citrus research. DeSantis also called for spending $100 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson. Simpson has requested $300 million for the program, which allows farmers and ranchers to continue operations with the promise that their land won’t be developed.

TRANSPORTATION: The proposal includes $14.5 billion for transportation projects, with $630 million eyed for the second year of a $7 billion program dubbed “Moving Forward Florida.” The program is aimed at speeding 20 projects across the state, such as reconstructing Interstate 4 from ChampionsGate to the Osceola Parkway in Central Florida and the addition of auxiliary lanes to Interstate 75 between Wildwood and Ocala.

PROPERTY INSURANCE: In addition to the proposed tax cuts, DeSantis is requesting $109 million to replenish the My Safe Florida Home program, which helps residents make home improvements to reduce insurance premiums.

LAW ENFORCEMENT: DeSantis is asking for $87 million to upgrade correctional facilities, $100 million to harden the state’s cybersecurity framework and $10 million for security at houses of worship, schools and community centers threatened by anti-Semitism.

FLORIDA MILITARY: DeSantis has requested $57 million for such things as additional boats and debris removal for the Florida State Guard and $157 million for the second year of upgrades to Florida National Guard facilities at Camp Blanding. Another $3 million would cover $1,000 bonuses to current and former members of the Florida National Guard for recruiting new members.

EDUCATION: The governor is recommending boosting spending to $27.8 billion for the Florida Education Finance Program, which is the main funding formula for public schools and voucher programs. The increase would represent a $175 boost to per-student funding in public schools over the current year. DeSantis also called for a $200 million increase, to a total of $1.2 billion, for raising educator pay.

The proposal would take into account demand for school vouchers, after lawmakers and DeSantis this spring approved a massive expansion of voucher eligibility.

“This investment will also cover the costs of the more than 274,000 students who are projected to participate in Florida’s school choice program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship,” a news release from the governor’s office said.

The governor is proposing to maintain $350 million that was included in the current year’s budget to help school districts handle unanticipated demand for vouchers.

The Florida Education Association teachers’ union criticized the proposal, saying it “fails to meet the needs” of public schools and students.

“The governor’s proposal today made it clear he will continue to devalue Florida’s hard-working educators,” union President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement.

In higher education, the governor’s proposed budget would maintain current funding levels for operating state colleges and universities. The spending plan would not provide money for new construction at college or university campuses. It also would fully fund the projected student enrollment in the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship program.

The 2024-2025 budget will take effect July 1.

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