Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a $101.5 billion budget Wednesday after vetoing $1.5 billion, including $1 billion in federal money for an emergency response fund he said had strings attached that made it unusable.
DeSantis held a bill signing ceremony at a New Smyrna Beach restaurant and used the event to boast about his response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying fully opening Florida to business early helped the economy rebound faster and stronger than expected.
“A lot of people were trying to tell me to close restaurants like this last summer. We didn't do it. We kept business open, we got kids in school,” DeSantis said. "The result was our economy really started to rebound."
Even with the vetoes, the budget is more than $9 billion above the current state spending plan. The budget year starts July 1.
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DeSantis also vetoed $350 million in federal relief money that was to be put in the state's rainy day fund for future emergencies.
Most of the remaining nearly $158 million in vetoes were for local projects are money that was to be taken from trust funds. The projects ranged from as little as $16,000 for a Hardee County citrus facility and $50,000 for a Chattahoochee mountain bike trail to larger items like and $2 million to improve the Lake County emergency radio system. He also vetoed $200,000 for a bear resistant trash can program and $200,000 to build a playground for special needs children in Plantation.
DeSantis said the state continues to far exceed revenue projections, helped in part by tourism.
“You had a lot of these other states that just kept locking people down. We were the state lifting people up. That was good for Floridians, but we were also the landing spot for a lot of people that wanted to escape the insanity and come and get recharged.” DeSantis said.
Of the federal money rejected by DeSantis, $1 billion was supposed to go to an emergency response fund set up by the Legislature. DeSantis said that while he supports such a fund, the federal government set conditions on it that didn't make sense for the state.
Part of it was because the money would come in the form of grants and the state would have to go through normal bidding process to spend it.
“In an emergency situation, you don't have the time to do the normal procurement. You've got to do this very quickly. It would defeat the purpose to try to use it for emergency response if you have to go through all that bureaucracy,” DeSantis said.
He said the state also wanted to use the relief money to meet future emergency needs, and the federal government said it couldn't be used for those purposes.
The budget raises the minimum wage for government workers to $13 an hour. That gives them a head start on private employees. Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment that will eventually raise the state minimum wage to $15 by 2026. In September, it will increase to $10 an hour.
Also, state attorneys, public defenders and district court judges will get a 10% pay raise.
And first responders, teachers and early learning instructors will get $1,000 bonuses. Schools will also receive $550 million to raise the minimum teacher salary.
Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls joined DeSantis at a second ceremony in Zephyrhills later Wednesday and gave him credit for approving a strong budget.
“The reason that we have the things that we have in our budget...is because of this governor and because of the leaders behind me who said, ‘We don’t care what CNN is saying, we don't care what national pundits are saying, we don't care what federal bureaucrats are saying, our kids are going to school and our people are going back to their jobs,” Sprowls said to applause.
But while no Democratic lawmakers voted against the budget, they criticized DeSantis for the person he didn't give credit to: President Joe Biden.
“Unfortunately, as he took his victory lap to hand out the bonuses, and brag about the many programs rescued as a result of the federal help, the governor never once directed thanks to those who made this possible," Senate Democrats said in a joint statement. “It was a crass example of freeloading off the hard work of others he doesn’t want to acknowledge because he doesn’t agree with their politics.”
This story corrects a previous story to say the budget is $101.5 billion, or more than $9 billion above the current budget.