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Governor signs $116.5 billion budget

Governor DeSantis in Georgia touting Florida's economic successes. [Photo by William Hunton]

Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 12 signed a $116.5 billion budget for the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year after vetoing close to $950 million in spending that lawmakers approved in March.

“Some of the stuff I don’t think was appropriate for state tax dollars,” DeSantis said of the vetoes during a budget-signing event at The Vault in Tampa. “Some of the stuff you’ll see are things that I support, but we have actual programs for.”

A wide range of groups praised the budget for addressing their priorities. As examples, the Everglades Trust touted more than $740 million for Everglades restoration, the Florida Health Care Association pointed to an 8% increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes, and the Florida Mosquito Control Association cited a $1 million increase in funding to “combat the world’s deadliest animal.”

But the progressive group DeSantis Watch called the vetoes “cruel” and a demonstration of “misplaced priorities.”

The budget includes a nearly $1.8 billion increase in the Florida Education Finance Program, the main funding source for public schools. Total funding for kindergarten through 12th grade now tops $28.4 billion.

The overall pot of money for schools includes such things as a $20 million increase for mental health and a $40 million boost for school safety.

DeSantis also approved a $200 million increase for teacher salaries. Coupled with past increases, he said, the budget includes “$1.25 billion that can only be used to increase teacher salaries. No money to unions, no money to bureaucracy, only for teacher salary increases. And that’s more than the state of Florida has ever done.”

But the Florida Education Association said the money will have to be spread to roughly 200,000 educators and will not “move the needle.”

“This $200 million equates to a salary increase in every classroom teacher’s paycheck of about $125 a month and nowhere near the $15,000 annual increase needed to match the national average for teacher salaries,” union President Andrew Spar said in a statement. “The only thing the budget guarantees is that Florida’s teachers will remain near the bottom in average pay.”

Lawmakers passed the budget March 8, the final day of the legislative session.

In a 39-page veto letter, DeSantis touted the nearly $950 million that he carved out of the budget, but he did not include explanations for individual line-item vetoes.

“Governments should strive to do more with less,” DeSantis wrote. “It can be done, and my action today cements that lesson for the nation.”

In the higher-education budget, the governor vetoed numerous construction and renovation projects, including $26.2 million that would have gone toward a science and engineering research wing at the University of West Florida.

DeSantis vetoed $13.5 million for a training center aimed at business and industry at Pensacola State College. He also vetoed $11.6 million for renovations to Florida Gulf Coast University’s Reed Hall classroom building.

DeSantis slashed $30 million that would have gone toward the New Worlds Tutoring Program, an outgrowth of a larger reading program for children that was a priority of former House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

The tutoring program was part of House Bill 1361, which DeSantis signed last month. A House staff analysis of the bill said the tutoring program would “support school districts and schools in improving kindergarten through Grade 5 student achievement in reading and mathematics.”

Also among the vetoes was $80 million for the Florida College System to participate in the state group insurance program, which provides health insurance to state workers.

Other vetoes eliminated $26 million for cultural and museum grants, $12.7 million for sewer line work in Hendry County, $5 million for transportation safety improvements in Bradenton and $5 million for upgrades at Wauchula Municipal Airport.

DeSantis said the vetoes will lead to total spending being below the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Among big-ticket items, the budget includes $14.5 billion for the state transportation work program and $232 million for cancer research, including $127.5 million for the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program.

In addition to money in the budget, lawmakers also scattered about $1.95 billion in spending in separate bills. The budget is the only measure that has to pass each year, and DeSantis is still considering some bills from the session.

“I know we’ve got some more legislation that we’re still processing, but I think this was the big enchilada that was left from the legislative session,” DeSantis said. “I’m glad we’ve got it done. I’m glad we’ve been able to meet the needs but also to keep spending under control.”


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