TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Miami, has filed a lawsuit against Florida officials over the state’s migrant relocation program.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday night, Pizzo named Gov. Ron DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Sec. Jared Perdue from the Department of Transportation as defendants, accusing them of misusing tax dollars.
It’s the second lawsuit filed against Florida officials over the migrant relocation program. The migrants themselves, represented by a non-profit in Boston, are suing the state over the program and transportation. In a news conference the day after filing the class-action lawsuit, lawyers for the migrants said they were already receiving death threats.
At issue is the $12 million budget allocation for what the state calls a relocation program for unauthorized aliens, which has so far spent $1.565 million to take migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. State officials have said in the days since that they fully intend on using the money until it’s gone, and will continue to take migrants to so-called sanctuary states and cities.
While the first portion of the funds used, $615,000, was paid to move about 50 migrants from San Antonio to Texas, hopping over to a Florida airport on the way, a second payment listed in state budget records for nearly $1 million ended up apparently playing for an empty plane to go to Teterboro, N.J.
Pizzo’s lawsuit now accuses the state of misusing the funds in violation of state statutes for how to use state tax dollars set aside in appropriations acts.
“An appropriations act is not the proper place for the enactment of general public policies on matters other than appropriations,” Pizzo’s lawsuit reads.
Additionally, the portion of the 2022 to 2023 fiscal budget which allocated the $12 million, Section 185, requires the funds to transport unauthorized aliens from Florida to other locations, as well as do so in a way that is “consistent with federal law.” Through his lawsuit, Pizzo argues that use of the money to transport migrants who were not in Florida to other parts of the country is therefore not in accordance with the law as written.
Part of the lawsuit also claims that the Department of Transportation has not received “at least two quotes, negotiated and entered into contracts with private parties” to implement the migrant relocation program.
Pizzo’s court filing also says, citing a DeSantis interview with Fox News, that the program funds were used to pay for hotel accommodations, haircuts, food, and informational papers that were provided to the migrants while they were in Texas. It asserts that the payments were made “outside of the specific requirements of Section 185 of the 2022 General Appropriations Act,” further violating the terms of the appropriation for the $12 million.
The state senator’s lawsuit says his rights and privileges as a citizen and taxpayer of Florida are reliant upon how the law is applied and the facts and constitutionality of the spending by the governor and state agencies for the relocation program. He is seeking relief to both have questions about the program answered, but block it as well, due to its alleged unconstitutional nature. It asks the court to prevent Patronis and Perdue from paying or entering into contracts for transportation of migrants.
In response to Pizzo’s lawsuit, the governor’s office said it was just for attention.
“Senator Pizzo never misses an opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame and is challenging an action on an appropriation he voted for,” Communications Director Taryn Fenske said.
It is true that the budget was voted for and approved by Sen. Pizzo, the Appropriations Act was passed unanimously in the Florida House and Florida Senate. However, from Pizzo’s lawsuit, the senator appears focused on the way the budget language has been interpreted, rather than an issue with the allocation, wholesale.
The lawsuit states that if the budget appropriation itself is “determined to be constitutional, a declaration that funds appropriated by Section 185” must be used only to transport unauthorized from the state of Florida, not from other states before they ever arrive in the state.
Similar to the governor’s office, the CFO’s spokesperson said Pizzo and his Democratic colleagues voted for the appropriation with the rest of the budget bill.
“Senator Pizzo, along with Minority Leader Lauren Book, voted for the $12 million appropriation to relocate migrants. Now that the law that they voted for is being implemented, and shedding light on the border crisis, Pizzo and Book have gone to their same old handbook, and hired a Democratic operative attorney to go after the executive branch for following the law,” Deputy CFO Frank Collins III said in response to the lawsuit. “We are in receipt of the filing and we are currently exploring options for sanction and/or countersuit measures.”
WFLA.com has asked the senator’s office for clarification on the appropriations vote and lawsuit, they are working on a response. We have also reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation for further comment, and will update when a response is received.