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DeSantis points to a fruitful year for local projects

Governor's office

Bolstered by federal stimulus dollars and growing sales-tax revenues, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday this will probably be the “best year” for local projects that lawmakers put into the state budget.

Appearing in Lake Butler as the annual legislative session prepares to start Tuesday, DeSantis told Union County officials that Florida has “huge amounts of money just coming into the state, even though we have very low taxes,” increasing the odds that local projects will survive his veto pen.

“If these guys (lawmakers) aren't getting you guys projects this year, then they're not going to probably be able to do it,” DeSantis told the local officials. “Because, I mean, this is probably like the best year to be able to do it.”

DeSantis has proposed a $99.7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, with a hefty amount of money in reserves — a situation he described as “exactly the opposite of what many people were predicting just under two years ago.” Lawmakers will use DeSantis’ proposal as a starting point as they negotiate an election-year spending plan.

The federal government poured billions of dollars into the state as stimulus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, state tax collections have repeatedly exceeded expectations, most recently topping a projection for November by $398.8 million.

Lawmakers have piled up budget requests for money to fund local projects and programs. House members as of Friday morning had pitched 1,637 different proposals that collectively totaled $2.47 billion.

In the Senate, 1,007 requests would require $1.5 billion to cover.

In most years, lawmakers approve a couple of hundred local projects, with the governor having line-item power to veto spending.

The budget for the current fiscal year, which lawmakers approved in April, initially included just under 700 spending proposals pitched by individual lawmakers. In June, DeSantis vetoed about 150 of the line items.

Some of the biggest asks for the upcoming session include $33.6 million for a Gadsden County Emergency Operations Center and Public Safety Complex (HB 4397); $29 million for a Levy County Emergency Operations Center and accompanying emergency communications system (HB 9229); $25 million for a Florida Atlantic University Health Sciences Training and Research Facility (Senate form 1364), and $25 million for the restoration of the Freedom Tower at Miami-Dade College (Senate form 1671 and House Bill HB 4171).

DeSantis has already endorsed the Freedom Tower proposal, traveling to Miami on Nov. 15 to call for restoration funding. The Freedom Tower was used in the 1960s to process Cuban refugees and is now an art museum tied to the college.
“It's getting close to being 100 years old, and it does need some major repairs, and some restoration needs are needed to ensure that it'll continue to stand here as a symbol of freedom and opportunity for decades to come,” DeSantis said while at the Freedom Tower.

DeSantis described the funding proposal as “a layup” for the Legislature.

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida