Describing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget as “very responsible,” House and Senate Republican budget chiefs on Tuesday brushed aside concerns about the $114.4 billion spending plan.
Democrats have said they hoped to see more in the proposal to address issues such as stemming rising housing and insurance costs and making improvements at the Florida Department of Corrections, where plans are being extended for members of the Florida National Guard to help with staffing shortages.
DeSantis’ proposal, rolled out last week, is an initial step as lawmakers prepare to negotiate a final budget during the legislative session that will start Jan. 9. Chris Spencer, DeSantis’ budget director, briefed the House and Senate Appropriations committees Tuesday on the proposal, which would represent a nearly 4 percent reduction from the current budget.
House Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said DeSantis “always gives us a very responsible budget recommendation” and indicated he didn’t hear any outstanding issues with the proposal.
“At this point in time, you’ve got to let the members (lawmakers) have their say, and have the process kind of play out before we understand really where the Legislature is,” Leek said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said DeSantis’ proposal did not present “major concerns” as the budget process is just beginning.
“We have a very capable staff in both the House and Senate,” Broxson said. “They’re going over things that are important to the members and to the people of Florida, and we’re going to try to plug that into what we think is important.”
Democrats have criticized past DeSantis budget proposals as being geared toward his 2024 presidential ambitions. Less so this year, according to Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, and House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.
Driskell, who said it appears DeSantis “phoned it in,” criticized the proposal for a lack of such things as community cultural grants, while it would increase funding for a controversial Election Crimes Unit in the Department of State.
“I think there is a misalignment of values with the governor’s budget, as opposed to where I think the people need him to be,” Driskell said.
Book called it “frustrating” that DeSantis included $1 million in his proposal to help pay for a possible Florida State University legal challenge because of being left out of the college football playoffs while “honest” discussions are needed about job vacancies in the prison system or about people losing homes because of rising costs.
Spencer defended the governor’s effort to counter rising insurance costs by pointing to a proposed tax package that includes $409 million in assistance through a one-year exemption on certain taxes, fees and assessments on property-insurance policies. Another $22 million would provide an exemption on insurance premium taxes on flood-insurance policies.
“It’s not going to be able to completely reverse or even come close to what some people have been experiencing, you know, 20, 30 percent, 50 percent premium increases over the last two years,” Spencer said. “But it’s something to try to provide some relief.”
Asked if members of the Florida State Guard, which DeSantis revived in 2022, could be trained to assist the Department of Corrections, Spencer said that while such a proposal hasn’t gone before the governor, “all options are on the table.”
“The purpose of the State Guard has always been to be a force multiplier and augment demands on the National Guard, so it would make sense,” Spencer said.
The Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Wednesday is slated to take up a proposal that would assign another 100 guard members to Florida prisons and buy dozens of now-leased trailers to house them and family members.
Jim turner – News Service of Florida