Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses the state budget during a press conference Friday in Tallahassee. DeSantis signed the $91 billion state spending plan while issuing $131.3 million in budget vetoes. [Photo by John Kennedy] Hide caption
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an almost $91 billion state budget Friday and made good on his pledge to pare back a modest level of spending — vetoing $131.3 million in programs and projects tucked-in by the Republican-led Legislature.
Although lawmakers approved the spending blueprint in early May, they took their time in sending it to the first-year governor. The budget takes effect July 1.
“I think it’s a fiscally responsible budget. I think we put taxpayers first. But I think the key things that Floridians care about, things like the environment, things like education and things like transportation, we were there to really make a difference,” DeSantis said.
The biggest vetoes included $8 million that had been earmarked for a Jacksonville workforce housing apartment complex being developed by Vestcor Cos., whose chairman, John Rood, is a major Republican fundraiser.
Vestcor gave $25,000 to DeSantis’s political committee in February, records show.
But the development, dubbed the Lofts at Cathedral, was believed to be the first time state affordable housing money has been earmarked for a specific project.
“I don’t know if that’s the precedent we want to go down,” DeSantis said, in explaining why he axed the dollars.
Other big-ticket vetoes included $2 million for a University of Florida’s Lastinger Center emergency response program; $3.4 million for South Florida State Hospital in Broward County; $4.6 million for building a regional public safety training center in Highlands County; and $2 million for a transportation project on Bradenton Beach’s State Road 789.
A handful of college and university building improvements, city water and sewer projects and road-building initiatives also failed to earn the governor’s approval. Many had been slipped into the budget because they had an influential backer, although DeSantis didn’t mention that as a reason for attracting a veto.
Indeed, one project that had been targeted as a legislative “turkey” by Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed organization, was $10 million for extending 44th Avenue East in Bradenton, which had the support of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. The proposal wasn’t recommended for funding by the Florida Department of Transportation.
But that didn’t seem to matter to DeSantis. It dodged a veto and survived in the spending plan
“When I looked at local projects I wanted to see if there was a real connection to overall state policy. And there were in many cases,” DeSantis said.
The almost $91 billion budget included plenty of what DeSantis wanted. Included among the biggest budget items is $682 million for water improvements and Everglades restoration which tops the $625 million sought by the governor to combat red tide and blue-green algae, which plagued the state last year.
The spending blueprint includes a $242-per-pupil increase in school funding, a roughly 3 percent hike for Florida’s 2.8 million students, also slightly above what DeSantis had sought from a Legislature controlled by fellow Republicans.