By John Haughey | The Center Square
Gov. Ron DeSantis used an 18-page list of at least 620 cuts to slash $1 billion from the fiscal year 2021 budget lawmakers approved in March before the COVID-19 emergency dramatically reduced revenue forecasts built into the spending plan.
“Nobody has ever made more vetoes than I did right here,” DeSantis said Monday of the most line-item budget vetoes in Florida history before signing a $92.2 billion budget.
The state budget DeSantis authorized two days before fiscal year 2021 begins Wednesday trims $487.779 million in general revenues and $512.559 million in trust fund money from the budget lawmakers adopted in March.
The state, despite collecting nearly $2 billion less in revenue since March, did not need to tap reserves or reduce spending through the last months of fiscal year 2020.
With Moody’s Analytics and other rating services projecting Florida could see an $8 million to $10 million revenue shortfall in fiscal 2021, at least $1 billion was expected to be slashed from the spending plan.
“Despite the record vetoes, I am pleased to see our final budget make good on several commitments the Senate made in its initial budget, from significant funding for affordable housing, to a meaningful pay raise for state employees, to critical funds that will preserve our environment for future generations of Floridians," Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a statement.
DeSantis said the $1 billion cut in state spending would not be offset directly by the $4.6 billion in federal relief Florida received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, although aid could be provided to programs with clipped state budgets.
The cuts boosts the state’s unallocated general revenues balance to $2.3 billion. With $6.3 billion in various reserve accounts, “I’m convinced that we can weather the storm,” DeSantis said.
Senate Democrats expressed disappointment in not being part of the process in finding cuts to the budget.
"We were part of the process when we were in session, and our budget process is not ideal as it is, but together we were able to put together probably one of the more people friendly budgets we've had in a long time as a state," Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. " ... For the last 90 days, we have called several times for a special session to be called by the governor so we could be part of a collaborative process to decide how these shortfalls were going to be met."
The governor’s office spelled out more than 620 line-item cuts, mostly individual lawmaker projects, in an 18-page veto list.
During his news conference Monday, DeSantis chose to focus on what remains in the spending plan, including $500 million for a statewide teachers salary increase he approved last week, a 3 percent salary increase for the state’s 90,000 workers, $9.2 billion for infrastructure projects, a $137 boost in per-capita student spending, $100 million for the Forever Florida land acquisition program and nearly $700 million for water quality projects.
“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.
More than $550 million in cut spending are in priorities laid out in DeSantis’ proposed budget from last fall, including a $20 million job growth grant fund he called “important.”
“I want it,” he said, “but at the same time, sometimes things need to be put on pause.”
DeSantis praised his staff and legislative leaders for finding a way to retain his requested $625 million for Everglades restoration and water quality improvements across the state.
As approved by lawmakers, the budget includes $322 million for Everglades restoration projects, $50 million for springs restoration, $160 million for targeted water quality improvements, $40 million for alternative water supply and $25 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide.
“The money is important,” DeSantis said. “You got to get the policy right but you need the funding. Two years in a row that the Legislature has stepped up and put money into these key initiatives.”