On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature will start its annual session with an upbeat speech by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the promise of big boosts in state government spending, thanks to the billions in “Biden-bucks” from federal COVID relief and infrastructure initiatives.
No, money isn’t the issue; this year’s spending spree should be.
Florida’s state capitol may be awash with cash, but don’t count on the governor or the Republican-controlled Legislature to think long-term in addressing some of the state’s more pressing — and ongoing — needs. It’s an election year, and with DeSantis and most state lawmakers seeking re-election, generosity is simply good politics.
“What I said is — ‘whatever’s out there I’m going to make use of it for the state of Florida,’” the governor said last month as he rolled out his budget recommendations.
In his address to state lawmakers, DeSantis will tout his “Freedom First Budget,” a nearly $100 billion spending plan that contains enough one-time boosts in outlays to satisfy voters. The Legislature that once took pride in reigning in government spending, won’t do so this year. What the governor wants, the governor most likely will get.
The proposed budget includes a $50 million increase for teacher pay, a second round of $1,000 bonus checks and a big boost in per-student funding. Law enforcement will also see raises between 20% and 25%, along with bonuses for new police officers. There’s money for the environment — $660 million for Everglades restoration and a new round of grants to local governments to help stem sea level rise. Florida’s five health and human service agencies will see a $1.2 billion increase over current spending, and there’s $1.8 billion in additional Medicaid funds to bridge the difference between program reimbursement rates and the actual costs of providing care.
The governor obviously saved some money to appeal to those supporters who see him as a lock for re-election and a viable candidate for higher office in 2024. There’s the $1 billion to provide six months of gas tax relief for Florida motorists, $6 million for a new elections security office, even though voting fraud hasn’t been a problem here. He also wants to spend $5.4 million to re-create the state guard that will be under his control, and there’s the $8 million for a program to protect against illegal immigration problems.
Spending money may get votes, but it raises a few “what if” questions. For example, what if the flow of federal money from Washington to Tallahassee returns to normal? Granted, the proposed budget is meeting needs, and the governor set aside $15 billion in reserves. But, given Florida’s still rapid growth and its ongoing needs, is it enough?
Election-year sessions tend to be as contentious-free as possible. This year’s no exception. Spending wise, 2022 will be a good year, but will future lawmakers rue the day when they look back on a legislative session that became a 10-figure spending binge?
Election Reminder: Vote
The start of the legislative session isn’t the only thing occurring on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The polls are open in Palm Beach County as voters in two majority-black political districts will pick a Democratic nominee to run for Florida House District 88 and finally elect a successor to the late U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings in Florida’s 20th congressional district.
Although The Palm Beach Post did not make an endorsement among the five candidates running in the congressional race, the paper’s editorial board urges voters to choose Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds as his party’s nominee to represent state House District 88 — the district that stretches through parts of Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Park, West Palm Beach, Riviera Beach, Magnolia Park, Lake Worth, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.
No matter your choice, make your voice count. If you haven’t yet but can, please vote.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida legislative session promises little drama amid election-year spending spree