Pointing to a need to further brace the state against a potential recession, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued $3.13 billion in vetoes Thursday as he signed a record $109.9 billion budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
Two significant Flagler County projects were vetoed, both planned at the Florida Agriculture Museum in north Palm Coast: a $2 million allocation for its Pioneer Village, and a $4.5 million allocation for a welcome center.
But other significant Flagler County allocations survived: the $8 million Septic to Sewer Conversion Project for the barrier island ($1.6 million more than requested, which will allow the county to expand the original scope of work), and $6.8 million for Flagler Central Commerce Parkway, what was referred to as Bunnell’s by-pass, from State Road 100 near Wendy’s to U.SD. 1, passing by the new Sheriff’s Operations Center.
The Septic to Sewer Conversion Project is a big step towards the elimination of septic tank pollution on the barrier island, a county release noted in March, when county officials had their fingers crossed. It will provide a layer of “storm hardening” for residents in the area to help protect them from future weather events. The project will include construction of a wastewater force main extension along State Road A1A to MalaCompra Road, Hammock Community Center, and ultimately Marineland. This backbone will allow residential neighborhoods and businesses to connect to the system, making the conversion complete.
“We can’t thank Representative Renner and Senator Hutson enough,” said County Commission Vice Chair Greg Hansen. “The results of their work mean that we’ll be able to extend sewer almost the entire length of State Road A1A on the barrier island.”
It’s been a wild hope for Bunnell for over 12 years, and has suffered vetoes in the past. Now it’s a matter of time before the road is widened, and cut–in time for the new Bunnell City Hall, also going up along Commerce Parkway, and a new south-side public library, whose contractor will be the same as the one building the $21 million Sheriff’s Operation Center. The County Commission is expected to approve the $16 million contract for the library next Monday.
The Commerce Parkway project is in line for a total of $11.8 million. “They (Hutson and Renner) asked if we would be willing to combine the request,” said Flagler County Legislative Liaison Holly Albanese. “Of course, we were. This is a lot of money for this very important project.”
“This is huge,” Bunnell Vice Mayor John Rogers said this evening. “I’m so excited that this thing is finally coming together. It’s going to open up windows of opportunity for industrial and commercial development all the way out to U.S. 1.” There are also some residential parcels along the way. “The potential is unlimited.”
The 1.7-mile expansion of this roadway will connect State Road 100 and U.S. 1 to unlock more than 1,000 acres of property for governmental, industrial, and residential development. Design work has been completed and permits obtained for construction. Funding for construction is the only hold up for the project completion.
“As members of the Flagler County legislative delegation, Senator Travis Hutson and I are very optimistic that the requested local project funding will remain intact via the 2022-23 state budget,” Rep. Paul Renner had said in March. “Thank you to local leaders who supported our efforts to ensure our community remains the best place to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”
Statewide, among the large vetoes, were $650 million for a new 4,500-bed prison; $195 million for construction of a prison hospital; $50 million for construction of a courthouse for the new 6th District Court of Appeal; $35 million for a sports complex in Pasco County that was expected to become a spring-training facility for the Tampa Bay Rays; and $20 million a year that was included in a budget-related bill for a H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center facility in Pasco County.
Also cut in budget-related “conforming” bills were $31.3 million for two airplanes that would have transported state leaders and a $1 billion pot of money to serve as a hedge against increased government costs driven by inflation.
DeSantis, who is running for re-election in November and is widely considered a 2024 presidential contender, criticized President Joe Biden as he described the new state budget (HB 5001) during a signing ceremony at the Eisenhower Regional Pool & Recreation Center in The Villages, a Republican stronghold.
“What we’re doing in the budget is making sure that we’re meeting the obligations and making sure we’re funding key priorities, but also protecting the state against what very well may be a Biden-induced recession,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis did not take questions during what had been announced as a news conference.
In veto letters, DeSantis wrote that the proposed airplane purchases were “an inadvisable expense, especially under current economic conditions.” Also, he wrote that a proposed 30-year commitment for the Moffitt Pasco County Life Science Park “inhibits budget flexibility.”
With the vetoes freeing up additional money, the governor’s office estimated reserves topping $16 billion as the 2022-2023 fiscal year prepares to get underway.
In 2021, DeSantis slashed $1.5 billion in proposed spending.
The conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida applauded DeSantis for cutting the money for the sports complex in Pasco County, which is home to Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
“Siphoning public dollars into a construction project for a professional baseball team is fiscally irresponsible and amounts to clear corporate welfare,” Skylar Zander, the organization’s state director, said in a statement.
House Democrats, meanwhile, issued a statement that said the budget doesn’t do enough to address health care, education and affordable housing.
“The governor doesn’t like to mention this, but Florida’s budget includes nearly $40 billion in federal money this year,” incoming House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said. “It’s unfortunate that despite having record cash to work with, we couldn’t do more for Floridians struggling with a housing crisis and global inflation.”
While the state has benefited from tax revenues that have exceeded expectations, the new budget, which the Legislature passed in March, is also bolstered by $3.46 billion in federal stimulus money.
The budget and accompanying bills include such things as funding increases for public schools and an across-the-board 5.38 percent pay increase for state employees.
Per-student spending in public schools will be up $385 to $8,143, and $800 million will go toward boosting the minimum salaries of teachers to $47,500 a year.
“You see the big surplus, you see the tax cuts, you see the record number of line-item vetoes, you see a budget that is much more fiscally responsible than our competing states,” DeSantis said. “And yet even with all of that, this budget has the highest amount of per-student funding for K-12 schools in the history of the state of Florida.”
At $48.9 billion, health and human services make up the largest chunk of the budget. That includes funding the Medicaid program, which has grown to more than 5 million beneficiaries. An agreement for nursing-home Medicaid payment rates will provide a minimum wage of $15 an hour for nursing-home workers. That is part of a broader effort to boost wages to $15 an hour as the state prepares to comply with a constitutional amendment requiring a $15 minimum wage as of Sept. 30, 2026.
The budget also includes the Department of Transportation’s $11.7 billion work program; provides $400 million to expand access to high-speed broadband internet, particularly in rural communities; and provides $50 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund economic-development program.
In environment-related programs, the budget includes $500 million for Everglades restoration; $286 million for local water projects; $75 million for the state’s natural springs; $68 million for wastewater and stormwater projects in the Indian River Lagoon, Springs Coast Watershed, and the Caloosahatchee and Peace River basins; and $20 million for Biscayne Bay.
DeSantis already approved a tax package that will reduce state and local revenues by $804.3 million during the upcoming fiscal year. The package includes a series of sales-tax “holidays” on such things as school clothes, outdoor activities and tools, and a suspension of the state gas tax in October. A tax holiday on hurricane supplies is already underway through June 10.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida