TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The governor's budget plan for next year will drop sometime this week. But what will be in it, and can Florida afford it?
We already know some of Gov. Ron DeSantis' big ideas for the next fiscal year.
He slowly unveiled them throughout last month and, in some cases, seeks to increase spending after lawmakers passed a record-setting budget last session of $101.5 billion.
"Huge investments in education," DeSantis said during a press gathering last week. "We're doing a lot with environmental quality and water resources."
Here are some of the biggest proposals to date:
- Continue raising starting teacher pay ($600 million)
- A per-student funding boost to its highest level ($8,000 per student)
- End and replacing FSA exams ($15.5 million)
- A billion-plus for water projects and climate resiliency ($1.5 billion)
- Higher state law officer pay and bonuses for new recruits ($400 million)
- Dollars to cut the state's gas tax ($1 billion)
- Improvements to military facilities and a reactivation of the Florida State Guard ($100 million)
DeSantis hasn't laid out details on infrastructure, economic development or health services yet. But critics like Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, worry things like affordable housing will be left out. She calls his proposals "political."
"It's more political than substantive policy discussions, and it's a shame," Eskamani said. "He has this bully pulpit where he can really dictate the right direction for our state — but he continues to use it for his own political agenda."
Florida also has to pay for it all with less than expected.
Federal courts struck down the new Seminole gaming compact, an estimated $6 billion loss for the state in anticipated revenue by 2030. Though appeals are underway, legal experts doubt a reversal.
"[The Legislature] should have vetted the compact and the legality of it," said gaming attorney Daniel Wallach. "They trusted the Seminole tribe that trusted the governor's legal opinion and didn't do their own independent legal analysis."
Florida also has to face the new COVID-19 omicron variant. It may impact vital tourism dollars.
The governor's office said it wasn't sweating the issue, citing recent datashowing domestic travel is above pre-pandemic numbers.
Press Secretary Christina Pushaw also said the office anticipates tourism will increase moving forward, "especially if other states make the mistake of locking down again."
"People want to experience freedom and a sense of normalcy," she said in a statement. "Based on the evidence available thus far, there is no reason to panic or even to assume that the Omicron variant will be more dangerous than the currently dominant variant, Delta."
Pushaw also weighed in on the loss of the gaming compact, saying the governor is "reviewing the Court’s perplexing ruling, which certainly contains appealable issues."
"Because neither the Seminole Tribe nor the State of Florida are parties to the case, it is unclear what if any immediate impact the ruling has in Florida," Pushaw said. "We look forward to working with the Tribe to ensure the future success of the Compact. We are of the position that the compact is legal, and we are subject to no court order applicable to the state of Florida at this time."
Her comments follow the tribe's decision over the weekend to "temporarily" suspend the operation of its mobile sports betting app. Operators had been hoping to keep it running, but a judge on Friday declined to grant a temporary stay.
"Despite the decision, the Seminole Tribe looks forward to working with the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice to aggressively defend the validity of the 2021 Compact before the Appeals Court, which has yet to rule on the merits of the 2021 Compact," said Gary Bitner, spokesperson for the Seminole Tribe. "The Seminole Tribe of Florida, the State of Florida, and the United States have all taken the position that the 2021 Compact is legal."