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DeSantis cuts water projects, opioid funding as he signs Florida budget

Lawrence Mower, Romy Ellenbogen and Nina Moske, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis cut nearly $1 billion from state lawmakers’ spending plan for the next fiscal year to create a final budget that is slightly smaller than last year’s.

DeSantis cut more than $200 million in water treatment projects, $26 million in arts projects and millions to fight the opioid crisis, but largely spared Tampa Bay projects from his veto pen.

In past years, DeSantis seemed to relish slashing the priorities of political opponents and the state’s Republican leaders.

The goal with this year’s vetoes was simply to spend less money than the year before, he said — despite inflation and the state’s booming tax rolls.

“I told the speaker (of the Florida House) that we want to hold the line,” he said during a news conference in Tampa on Wednesday.

His vetoes brought the total budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which begins July 1, just thousands of dollars shy of the record $116.5 billion approved last year.

“The budget is actually spending less than we did last year,” DeSantis said.

That’s not a complete picture of the state’s spending, however. The budget also assigns at least $2 billion to be spent during the current 2023-24 fiscal year, an accounting maneuver that makes the upcoming year’s budget appear smaller.

That spending includes some big-ticket items, including $370 million to speed up the construction of road projects and $116 million to buy land and build a warehouse for emergency supplies near Interstate 4 in Central Florida.

The no-bid contract to build and manage the warehouse went to a politically connected Dallas company that has contributed at least $300,000 to the state Republican Party and legislative leadership committees, the Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday.

Cuts to water projects and homeless programs

DeSantis vetoes included roughly $205 million in stormwater, wastewater and sewer projects across the state. The projects were requested by individual state lawmakers, typically at the request of their local governments.

DeSantis said that he didn’t oppose the projects. He just wanted them funded a different way, where local communities ask for the money through the state Department of Environmental Protection. DeSantis said at least $500 million is available in the state’s program.

“All those needs will be met,” he said.

DeSantis gave no explanation for his other vetoes, however.

He vetoed about $12 million worth of projects that would have been paid for through the state’s opioid settlement fund.

The largest of those vetoes include $3.9 million for a University of South Florida project meant to teach health care workers alternatives to opioids and to instruct them on strategies on how to handle patients’ physical and emotional pain. The program would have also helped Florida counties figure out how to best distribute opioid antagonists like Narcan.

DeSantis also vetoed around $4.6 million for the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs meant to inform children and their families about the dangers of opioid abuse.

The governor also rejected more than $6 million for a grant program to help school districts provide menstrual hygiene products to students at no charge. A bill last year sponsored by Democrats passed the Legislature unanimously. It sought to put products like tampons and pads in school nurses’ offices and bathrooms.

DeSantis also vetoed $500,000 for the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a Jacksonville nonprofit. The Center seeks to divert young at-risk girls away from incarceration, and the funding request was supported by local law enforcement.

Delores Barr Weaver, the philanthropist the center is named after, has donated about $1 million to the campaign for Amendment 4, which would undo Florida’s six-week abortion ban and protect abortion access until viability.

Other vetoes included:

—$4.2 million in various homeless programs across the state

 

—More than $800,000 in food bank and hunger programs

—$2 million for a program meant to help inmates’ families with the cost of phone calls

The decisions prompted Democratic leaders to accuse DeSantis of being out of touch.

“Florida has become too expensive for many Floridians as we face one of the worst affordability crises in the country during DeSantis’ time as governor,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said in a statement.

Florida Democratic Party leader Nikki Fried said in a statement that DeSantis vetoed “things that actually improve our day-to-day lives.”

“Once again, Ron has passed a near-record budget that doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of Floridians,” she said.

Budget preserves prison spending, has tax cuts

DeSantis called the spending plan the “Focus on Florida’s Future” budget. And there are few more pressing issues for state leadership than the state’s crumbling prisons.

The state needs to spend billions of dollars repairing and replacing them. In 2022, DeSantis vetoed $840 million for a new prison and a new prison hospital.

This year, lawmakers set aside $100 million in recurring funds for major repairs and renovation, and it survived DeSantis’ veto pen.

DeSantis said the budget includes record spending on transportation, the environment and schools. The budget also includes $202 million for additional teacher pay raises, although the state still ranks last in the nation in average teacher pay at $53,098.

The budget also includes the typical sales tax holidays for hurricane preparedness and back-to-school items. It also includes 50% discounts on tolls for heavy SunPass users. There is also a one-year break on homeowners insurance taxes, which could save some Floridians a few hundred dollars per year.

The state is also spending another $200 million to renew the popular My Safe Florida Home, a home-hardening program. Homeowners can apply for the new grants starting July 1.

DeSantis touted spending $500 million to pay down state debt early and setting aside record amounts for the state’s rainy day fund.

Limits on DeSantis’ spending

State lawmakers who control the purse strings largely gave DeSantis what he wanted in the budget this year. But they also put new guardrails around his spending.

They rejected DeSantis’ request for more money to relocate migrants, which still has $9.4 million of the $12 million they assigned last year unspent.

His transformation of New College of Florida into a conservative bastion was given another $15 million for student housing, scholarships and coaches, but the school must first show “the institution is making adequate progress toward achieving its student enrollment goals.”

And in a new policy, lawmakers this year started requiring every state agency to issue a report within 90 days on their progress in carrying out the laws passed by the Legislature.

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(Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Alexandra Glorioso contributed to this report.)

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©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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