Gov. Ron DeSantis released the largest proposed budget in Florida’s history in a move that highlights some of the subtle breaks between him and the Republicans in the state House of Representatives. DeSantis released his budget proposal, calling it his ‘Bold Vision For A Brighter Future,’ on Feb. 1, which included a $2 billion increase over the previous year’s budget. Major increases center around the environment, schools, universities and costs related to Hurricane Michael disaster relief.
The most relevant change for New College of Florida is the increase to the budget for performance funding by $30 million. Additionally, the Board of Governors (BOG) eliminated the ‘bottom three’ penalty that denied performance-based funding to the schools that scored the lowest on the BOG’s metrics, a policy that was a perpetual vexation to New College.
“We would be seeing more money,” President Donal O’Shea said. “Everything is dependent on who gets to allocate that extra bit. If it is allocated by the Board of Governors, we would see more money. Not a lot and not as much as we ask, but we would see more.”
K-12 education has also seen an increase in funding under this proposed budget. Almost $700 million has been added to the budget, an increase of $224 per student. The majority of this money will go to hiring more teachers or offering bonuses to high-performing teachers. School safety programs, including the Guardian program which seeks to increase the number of armed personnel on schools and school mental health programs, have been dedicated $212 million.
The environment is also a major focus for DeSantis. DeSantis plans to allocate $625 million for water quality projects and the restoration of the Everglades.
“What we’re doing in the budget is historic,” DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times. “It will have a very big impact on the quality of life for Floridians.”
His environmental programs have yielded him praise from some of the same groups that often denounced former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration’s stance on the same issues.
“The health of all Floridians is dependent on our access to clean water and ample natural areas,” Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, told the Orlando Sentinel. “The commitment from Governor DeSantis to support the Florida Forever land conservation program shows that he is listening to the people of our state who are demanding action for our environment.”
Another departure from traditional Republican stances in DeSantis’s budget proposal is the full dedication of the affordable housing fund, known as the “Sadowski Fund,” for explicit use of affordable housing. The Sadowski Fund, comprised of a portion of revenue from real estate taxes, had only been fully used for affordable housing for nine of its 26 years of existence.
Because of these breaks with conservative orthodoxy, even some Democrats have praised DeSantis’s proposed budget.
“I am encouraged to see the governor’s commitment to priorities Democrats have long embraced, especially the clean-up of our water, and increased funding for public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said in a public statement.
But the lack of serious tax reductions has garnered DeSantis’s program some criticism from the Governor’s own party. The most major tax cut is applying the roll back rate to property taxes, which would save homeowners approximately $290 million. Additionally, DeSantis seeks two sales-tax holidays, one for back-to-school shopping and the other for disaster readiness. Many members of the House GOP were looking to go further in decreasing the per-capita tax burden and DeSantis’s proposals come across as lackluster.
“The Constitution requires a balanced budget, but we have an additional responsibility to respect Florida’s taxpayers by spending each dollar wisely,” House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican representing Miami-Lakes, said in a statement. “To meet this goal, the House will craft a budget that reduces per capita spending. I am confident Florida’s economic success will continue under Governor DeSantis as long as we keep taxes low and spending in check.”
Information for this article was gathered from orlandosentinel.com, tampabay.com, gainsville.com, miamiherald.com and boldvisionforabrighterfuture.com.