Gov. Ron DeSantis' veto pen was busy last week, slashing $131 million from what became the $90.9 billion state budget for next fiscal year.
At the post-signing news conference last week, the Governor made his argument for what he vetoed, and why.
“When I looked at local projects, I wanted to see if there’s a real connection to an overall state policy,” said the Governor. “And there were in some instances. We were very supportive of a lot of water projects throughout the state because I think that that’s reinforcing my overall policy.”
The budget provides $400 million in funding for Everglades restoration, $100 million for springs restoration, $50 million for water quality improvements and $25 million to combat red tide and blue-green algae.
“I think it’s a physically responsible budget; I think we put taxpayers first,” said DeSantis. “But I think the key issues that Floridians care about – things like environment, thinks like education, things like transportation – we were there to really make a difference.”
DeSantis added that if he thought something was more properly done at the city or county level, then unless there was some other reason, those governments should “take the reins” on that. He also claims to overseeing development of a larger budget than any other first-year Florida governor.
“Basically, I took a look at it and tried to make the best decisions that I could; I said that we would be under $91 billion, and we are under $91 billion,” DeSantis said. I just tried to apply some of the criteria that I mentioned, and let the chips fall where they may.”
More than $4.5 million for EscaRosa were removed from projects in the two counties – including $1.5 million for the ST Engineering campus expansion at Pensacola International Airport.
“It was disappointing; we worked hard to get the million and a half dollars in the ST project; it’s a $210 million project,’ said Pensacola City Administrator Chris Holley, who adds that the state has been “very, very helpful” when it comes to the ST project.
“[It’s] hard to criticize a million and a half veto when they came forward with additional [Florida Department of Transportation] money several months back,” said Holley. “We had that $5 million difference between available funds that we’ve gotten committed, and the final budget.”
Despite the financial setback, Holley says the expansion project is moving forward to the next step, and is still expected to create more than 1,300 jobs when operations begin in 2022.
“[We’re] still about ready to start interviewing for the company that will actually build the hangars,” Holley said. “We still haven’t gotten final design, and until you have a final design and a construction estimate, you really don’t know what you’re going to do. Even though we say 210 [million], that number could be different – less or more.”
The project has a five-year time frame for build-out, which Holley says is plenty of time to go back to the Legislature next year and present their case once again.
“I think we just have a new governor and a new governor’s office staff, and I think they just felt like they kind of gave at the office already this year,” said Holley. “They had asked us a few questions about the project and we tried to explain those. So I think we just have a little more educating to do.”
On the plus side, the city appears to be close to obtaining a federal grant, along with other possible state revenue sources.
“The Governor’s Closing Fund has funded this project, and we can always go back and request additional funds there,” Holley said. “We have plenty of time to go back and fill that five million dollar debt. But we were disappointed on the ST funding.”
Meanwhile, Santa Rosa County got hit with $2.5 million in vetoes involving a number of projects, such as a new courthouse; I-10 Industrial Park, and the Midway Fire District.