TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his series of appearances across Florida to announce recommendations for 2022’s legislative budget. Speaking at the Pensacola National Guard Armory, DeSantis announced he’d be requesting more than $100 million for the Florida National Guard’s budget next year.
“The 20 military installations we have throughout Florida is an almost $100 billion impact supporting about 100 million jobs,” DeSantis said. “I’ve been making some announcements of what’s going to be in our budget, which we will roll out very soon. And I’m proud to say that this budget is going to have major investments to support Florida’s National Guard, in fact we’re recommending more than $100 million to support our national guard to ensure they have the means to carry out their missions, whether that be the federal functions that they can do overseas.”
Breaking it down, DeSantis said the funding will go toward multiple infrastructure and improvement projects that benefit the guard. The governor said he’d also like to reestablish the Florida State Guard next year.
- $87.5 million to expand the readiness center in Miramar and create three new armories housing up to 1,500 soldiers
- $8.9 million for existing armory maintenance
- $2.2 million for a new National Guard counter-drug program headquarters
- $5.1 million to support Florida National Guardsmen seeking higher education and support their families during their civilian careers
- $12.2 million for scholarships to go to education funding for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans
- $3.6 million for support of base infrastructure projects
- $3.5 million to reestablish the Florida State Guard
“I’m going to be recommending in the budget $3.5 million to reestablish the Florida State Guard. The Florida State Guard will act as a civilian volunteer force that will have the ability to assist the national guard in state-specific emergencies,” DeSantis said. “This funding will support the necessary training and equipment, and other support functions for up to 200 members who can aid in response to hurricanes and other natural disasters and other state emergencies.”
DeSantis said he wants the state guard to be able to respond quickly, with civilian volunteer members, and train them in the “best emergency response techniques” so they are able to mobilize quickly in case of emergency.
“This is something that many other states have utilized and I think Florida is in the minority of states that has allowed this to go defunct,” DeSantis said. “So we’re happy to be able to bring that back, I think it’ll be something that’ll be good.”
There are 22 states with state guards currently. Florida will be the 23rd.
The governor also expressed appreciation for the uniformed service members of Florida, and as both a veteran and as the state’s governor. Going forward, DeSantis said he’d like to ensure that the population percentage of guardsmen to state residents grows, as other states with smaller populations have higher ratios of members to residents.
“We’re happy with the announcement, I think this is a real robust commitment to our national guard, particularly to their infrastructure and personnel,” DeSantis said.
Major General James O. Eifert, The Adjutant General of Florida, also spoke at the event and thanked the governor for his support and commitment to Florida’s military members. He praised the efforts of the Florida National Guard during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and variety of natural disasters, among other events.
“For the past nearly two years, these hometown heroes have given back to their communities at an unprecedented scale. Your Florida National Guard has worked more days in state response missions in the past two years than they’ve done in the previous twenty years,” Eifert said. “That’s an indication of the commitment and dedication of these great young people. Serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and protecting life and property during civil unrest and providing relief and support to our neighbors during natural disasters.”
Eifert went on to say that Florida guardsmen and airmen have continued supporting the United States military abroad, with 25,000 guardsmen deployed since Sept. 11, 2001 and the fall of the Twin Towers.
“As I speak, there are 1,500 soldiers and airmen deployed overseas supporting national security objectives in places like Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, the Ukraine and even several hundred on the southwest border of our own country in New Mexico and Texas assisting with the customs and border patrol mission,” Eifert said.
He thanked the families, citizens, and governor of Florida for the support they give, enabling Florida’s National Guard to perform these duties, and praised the budget recommendation for its investment in the guard’s future.
“Governor Desantis’s budget this year is yet another example of his deep commitment to our Florida National Guard soldiers and airmen. This year the governor is committing the most substantial investment in the Florida National Guard facility program in the entire history of the Florida National Guard,” Eifert said. “These investments will help us maintain our readiness and hopefully grow our force, enabling us to continue ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of Florida. We simply cannot thank the governor enough for his ongoing leadership and dedication to our guardsmen and we look forward to proudly continuing our 456 year legacy of service to this great state.”
DeSantis spoke again, promising to continue the momentum of supporting the military and veterans of Florida. He also addressed the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and criticized President Joe Biden’s pandemic policies, particularly as they related to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services funding.
“I’m also happy we have gotten some relief in a court decision against the Biden CMS mandate, which threatened to cause healthcare workers to potentially lose their jobs,” DeSantis said. “Obviously we created a lot of protections for them with our special session, we were very happy with that. At the same time you had the federal government holding a Sword of Damocles, threatening to take away all Medicare and Medicaid funding from these providers and that would have been just devastating.”
The policy is currently on hold across the U.S. following the court’s decision in Louisiana. A separate court case in Pensacola, Fla. is currently going through an appeals process on a similar issue. Focusing on policy issues regarding COVID, border security and travel, DeSantis said he didn’t understand some of the policy pushes by the Biden administration.
“I also just think that what President Biden’s doing, by trying to impose more restrictions, you know he’s now going to say that if you go to the Bahamas as an American citizen, and you come back, you’ve gotta do a test, a COVID test, but if you just come right across the border illegally, then somehow that’s fine and we don’t’ care about the test or vaccination? I just don’t understand it,” DeSantis said. “I think all it’s going to do is cause a lot of problems, I don’t think that they should be imposing any mandates on air travel or any of the things that they have done, I think it has not been anything that’s really made much of a difference, I think it’s inconvenienced a lot of people, I think it’s crimped the willingness of people to travel.”
The governor also said that Florida’s rate of COVID cases was now the lowest in the country, even without any restrictions or mandates in place, while other states with those policies were experiencing higher levels of infection. He said that Biden was elected after promising to end COVID-19 and that the President had “demagogued” former President Donald Trump, blaming him for the virus, but that the shut down of COVID had not happened.
“He basically sold the public a bill of goods, said that he would shut it down, he’s not shutting it down,” DeSantis said. “What they’re doing now I think is just not going to have any impact on mitigating COVID, it’s more theater.”
He referenced recent legislative items, such as the Parents’ Bill of Rights, as proof of Florida’s commitment to parental choices on healthcare and education, and that parents should know more of what’s going on in their students’ schools. DeSantis also referenced efforts and desires to return to in-person learning during the 2020 portion of the COVID-19 pandemic, and praised educators who want to work with parents.