TALLAHASSEE – Republican Ron DeSantis unveiled his first budget proposal Friday as Florida governor – a $91.3 billion spending package that boosts dollars for schools, the environment and hurricane recovery, while keeping the engine of state government fueled with fresh cash.
Notably, after campaigning as a fiscal conservative, DeSantis not only didn’t take a meat axe to state spending – he actually spread dollars around freely.
The $91.3 billion blueprint is the largest in state history, increases money for most state agencies, bumps up the size of the state’s workforce and proposes a relatively modest $335 million in tax cuts – mostly for property owners.
“We want a budget that is using taxpayer dollars wisely and we’ve done that here,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis is helped by an economy that has poured another $1 billion in tax collections into the state treasury. That cleared the way for him to recommend a $224-per-pupil increase for Florida’s 2.8 million school kids, a 3 percent hike, while holding the line on tuition for college and university students.
The governor earlier this week outlined his plan to seek another $625 million for financing a host of environmental initiatives following a year in which the state was plagued by toxic algal blooms on both coasts.
In his 363-page budget proposal, DeSantis also laid out plans to direct almost $2 billion in state and federal spending for helping communities recover from devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Michael.
Beach restoration, debris removal, fisheries recovery, a home buyout program and workforce re-training are among the areas targeted for dollars.
The budget also sets aside $5.2 billion in reserves, including $1.4 billion in a state “rainy day” fund that could be easily tapped for emergencies.
DeSantis’ budget recommendation goes to the Republican-led Legislature, which will come up with its own spending plan when lawmakers convene the two-month session on March 5.
But the governor got an early thumbs-up from Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, for his first pitch.
“I appreciate the governor’s recommendations, which reflect many of our shared priorities, not only in terms of state spending, but also with regard to setting aside ample reserves,” Galvano said.