Florida governor signs $92.2B budget after slashing $1B

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TALLAHASSEE, Fa. (AP) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis slashed $1 billion from the state budget lawmakers approved in March, including some of his own priorities. He said after signing the spending plan Monday that the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic forced him to make difficult choices.

The state budget for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday will now total $92.2 billion.

DeSantis mostly talked about what was preserved in the budget, including $500 million in pay raises for teachers, a 3% raise for state workers, $625 million for Everglades restoration and other water quality projects and a boost in spending for child welfare.

“My goal was to try to safeguard the historic achievements that we were able to do, while also realizing historic savings so that we could put Florida on a solid fiscal foundation,” DeSantis said at a news conference announcing the budget signing.

He said he vetoed $550 million of his own priorities, including $20 million for a job growth grant fund.

“I want it, but at the same time, sometimes things need to be put on pause,” DeSantis said.

Among other cuts: $41.6 million for a school security program that trains teachers and other personnel to carry guns at school, $135 million to provided bonuses to schools based on their performance, and $225 million for a program that helps local government create and preserve affordable housing.

“As the reality changes, I think we all have to recognize that none of us are going to get everything that we want,” DeSantis said.

Florida doesn't have an income tax and generates the bulk of its revenue from its sales tax. And that is boosted by the millions of tourists that come to the state each year. With many people not traveling and many residents staying home, the state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax collections.

While praising DeSantis for preserving teacher and state worker pay raises, as well as environmental funding, Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in an emailed statement that the state wouldn't have had to cut as much if it eliminated previously approved corporate tax breaks.

“Hard-working Floridians will always lose if we continue to allow corporations to set the funding and policy agenda. Yes, more people are suffering because of COVID-19, but the economic disparities many are feeling today have been the norm for far too many families for far too long," she said.'

Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva and Republican Senate President Bill Galvano praised the cuts at a time of economic uncertainty, in separate statements emailed to media.

“The situation is still evolving, presenting new challenges on an almost daily basis. Despite these significant challenges, this balanced budget is a work product the people of Florida can be proud of,” Galvano said. “Key priorities are funded, and our state remains on solid financial footing heading into the new fiscal year. ”

The budget was approved in March, just as DeSantis was shutting down the state to try to prevent the spread of the virus. In the first two months of the shutdown, the state lost more than $1.5 billion in revenue, but still didn't have to adjust the budget for the fiscal year ending Tuesday.

In all, more than 600 individual items were vetoed from the budget, including money for local projects and university programs. They ranged across projects big and small, like a $20,000 cut for Miami Gardens drainage improvement and $21 million to build a new Second District Court of Appeal in Pinellas County.

The state has gradually reopened with restaurants, retails stores, gyms and other businesses allowed to bring customers in at a limited capacity and with safety guidelines. But the state had to take a step back on Friday, when bars were ordered to stop serving alcoholic beverages. DeSantis has blamed a recent spike in coronavirus cases on some bars and younger people not following guidelines like social distancing and capacity restrictions.

Still DeSantis policy director Chris Spencer said the state's month by month revenue shortfall compared to original predictions is starting to trend lower, from $878 million in March to a June report that should show about a $550 million shortfall. He expressed optimism that the state won't have to make budget cuts later in the fiscal year if the shortfall keeps shrinking.

“The worst is behind us,” he said. “We feel confident with the reserves that we've accounted for and the vetoes that we've done and another host of measures that we've taken, that we have the resources that we need to absorb those losses going into the next fiscal year,” Spencer said.

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AP reporter Boby Caina Calvan contributed to this report.


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