DeSantis’ proposed budget funds migrant-flights program, teacher civics training
Miami Herald | By Lawrence Mower, Ana Ceballos, and Romy Ellenbogen | December 5, 2023
Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a new state spending plan for state government on Tuesday that’s smaller than the current year.
In the name of “efficiency,” DeSantis said he wants to spend $4.6 billion less than the current year and cut 1,000 positions in state government.
“We’ve done it right, and we’re going to continue to do it right with this upcoming fiscal year budget,” he said Tuesday.
In reality, however, the governor’s $114.4 billion plan is lower after exhausting billions in federal dollars and thanks to accounting techniques he’s used in the past to make his budgets appear smaller.
And the state would not be firing 1,000 workers. Instead, the positions are unfilled because DeSantis and other state officials have struggled to find and retain employees.
DeSantis’ spending plan still preserves millions for some of his top political priorities as he campaigns for president, including another $5 million to continue his migrant flights program, $853 million for job training programs and $45 million to pay teachers $3,000 to undergo civics training crafted by conservative organizations.
DeSantis’ proposed budget will ultimately be decided by state lawmakers when they convene for the annual legislative session in January.
Democratic leaders blasted DeSantis’ plan for not focusing on issues facing Floridians, such as the high cost of living and skyrocketing insurance premiums.
“Thankfully, Ron DeSantis will never be President of the United States,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing how the Legislature treats his budget proposals now that that fact is obvious to everyone.”
DeSantis is proposing some modest relief for homeowners. He wants to slash various insurance taxes and fees policyholders pay, including the 1% surcharge the Florida Guarantee Insurance Guaranty Association currently assesses to pay outstanding claims for failed insurance companies.
The amount of savings for homeowners is expected to be modest — less than 5% of their premiums, although DeSantis officials couldn’t say exactly on Tuesday. The money will be paid for through the state’s general revenue fund, made up largely from sales taxes.
He also wants to spend another $107 million to continue the My Safe Florida Home program, which gives grants to help homeowners strengthen their windows and doors.
He also wants to continue various sales tax holidays, and he wants to permanently exempt over-the-counter pet medications from sales taxes.
PROGRAM SPENDING LARGELY CONTINUES
The governor’s budget is lower in part because it doesn’t have billions in federal coronavirus relief dollars to spend.
The budget also includes billions of dollars in spending for the current fiscal year, which does not appear in the 2024-25 budget. The governor’s office is asking for $321 million to upgrade Florida National Guard sites, for example, but for the current fiscal year.
When DeSantis released his 2022-23 budget — $99.7 billion, just shy of the previous year’s budget — he also spent millions in the current fiscal year, which frustrated some GOP lawmakers.
The governor’s spending plan is largely the same.
The governor wants to increase per-student funding to $8,842, which would mean an increase of $174 per student over the current year’s budget. He is also recommending $1.2 billion — an additional $200 million over this year’s budget — to continue increasing teacher pay, a top priority of his since he became governor.
In his effort to recruit and retain teachers, DeSantis wants to continue funding two efforts that have drawn criticism.
He wants $45 million for a civics initiative for teachers that some educators have said is infused with Christian and conservative ideology. Teachers who complete the program receive a $3,000 stipend. DeSantis wants the money to cover the training of 15,000 educators.
DeSantis also wants to continue offering $4,000 bonuses to military veterans who want to become teachers in Florida without having obtained a bachelor’s degree.
Following a massive expansion of Florida’s school voucher program, DeSantis is asking the Legislature to set aside $350 million to cover unanticipated demand for vouchers. That pot of money would be made available to school districts in case they lose too many students to the state’s voucher program, which every K-12 student can now use to spend on private schools and other education expenses.
DeSantis also wants to set aside $125 million for a school voucher program for children with special needs. Lawmakers expanded the eligibility for the program during a special session this fall.
And as DeSantis’ education priorities increasingly face legal challenges, he is asking the Legislature to set aside $1 million to cover litigation costs for the State Board of Education, which oversees the state’s K-12 system and state colleges.
NO MONEY TO ADDRESS PRISON CRISIS
The governor’s budget does not allocate any money for a new prison or new prison hospital beds, which is urged by an auditing firm hired by the state to examine Florida’s Department of Corrections.
Although prisons have long struggled to retain employees, the budget does not include any further pay raises for security staff, but instead includes a total of $13.3 million for pay raises for classification and maintenance staff. DeSantis has raised security officers’ base pay over the last few years to the current $45,760 a year, up from $33,500 in 2020.
The governor’s budget also does not include money to address the increase in complaints that the understaffed and underfunded Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has faced in relation to condominium association complaints.
DeSantis does include $116 million for Medicaid rate increases for obstetrics care. As governor, DeSantis has put money toward maternal health care and families, including by signing off on expanding Medicaid for postpartum women from 60 days to 12 months and by passing tax breaks for diapers and other childcare related items.
But the funding has come alongside some of Florida’s strictest abortion restrictions in its history. State law currently prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. That law is being challenged, and depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court case, DeSantis’ six-week abortion law could be triggered into action.