FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Fort Myers Beach at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. Signage at the event read “Protecting Florida Together.” He spoke about the state budget and water conservation. The governor highlighted a variety of environmental protection projects approved in the new state budget.
DeSantis was joined by Shawn Hamilton, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Florida Chief Resilience Officer Dr. Wes Brooks.
Speaking about the budget for the coming fiscal year, DeSantis mentioned the record surplus the state would have, and referenced the $3 billion in vetoed projects he’d signed when approving the state appropriations.
DeSantis said the vetoes were intended to make sure Florida is fiscally sound. The event in Fort Myers beach was to highlight “our promises with respect to conservation, water resources and water stewardship,” but also to show how the state had delivered on those promises.
As at previous events, DeSantis praised the state’s low tax burden and said it was important to have reserves to deal with both predicted and unforeseen needs in the state, saying public safety, education, and the environment were key issues for his administration. He pointed at tourism, job growth, and new business formations, saying Florida was leading the nation, and criticizing President Joe Biden for bad policies in Washington and the high gas prices. DeSantis said the president had “declared war” on American energy.
Commenting on inflation, DeSantis said it was a result of “printing” trillions of dollars in Washington, but said the state was fiscally well positioned, expressing concerns that Biden would induce an economic slowdown.
“From a fiscal perspective, we’re strong, we’re ready for whatever Biden throws at us,” DeSantis said.
The governor said to be good state stewards, Florida had to make sure to take care of its unique natural resources. He said when he was elected governor, he promised to make it a priority. He highlighted “massive amounts of investment” by the state to address environmental issues like clean water, protecting the Everglades, and red tide mitigation.
DeSantis said the state had put $2.5 billion into a variety of environmental projects over four years, a $1.5 billion increase over the previous four years. With the new state budget, he said there would be another $3.3 billion over four years to meet environmental obligations and infrastructure needs in Florida.
“Our stormwater treatment component of the southern reservoir [of Lake Okeechobee], that’s something we’re ahead of schedule on,” DeSantis said. “That’s something, the Army Corps with the federal component, Biden didn’t give us any stimulus, any infrastructure money for that project, it’s an important project. Nevertheless, we’re going to continue to go forward.”
DeSantis said the state remained committed to the needs and projects that were underway.
Then, he announced a veto of Senate Bill 2508. The bill would have changed a variety of factors affecting the South Florida Water Management District, among others.
“Thank you, Governor DeSantis for standing firm in your commitment to protect Florida’s waterways by vetoing Senate Bill 2508, the bad water policy that would have reversed years of Everglades restoration, water quality progress, the elimination of Lake Okeechobee discharges, and the equitable distribution of water use, all in favor of Big Sugar,” said Captains for Clean Water Executive Director Captain Daniel Andrews. “Our organization and others worked hard to weaken 2508 and this veto is the final nail in the coffin.”
“We want to continue going on the path we set out in January 2019,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want anything to derail us from that.”
DeSantis said there was $1.2 billion in Everglades and water restoration investment in the Freedom First budget for the coming fiscal year and credited lawmakers for “stepping up to the plate.” He said there was $500 million for the Everglades alone, saying the four years he’s been governor have had the most investment in Everglades protections in state history. Since 2019, DeSantis said 48 Everglades projects have “broken ground, hit a major milestone, or finished construction.”
He also said the new budget will have $558 million for “targeted water quality improvements” across the state of Florida. That includes $25 million in Biscayne Bay, $125 million for wastewater grant program to treat wastewater and septic to sewer conversion, money for wastewater and stormwater basins across Florida, and $75 million for restoration of Florida’s “world-renowned springs,” bringing the restoration budget to a $250 million over four years, according to DeSantis. Another $50 million for alternative water supply projects, and $15 million for innovative technologies to fight red tide and blue-green algae, a $5 million increase, according to the governor.
The governor also mentioned another $500 million for a new program called “Resilient Florida,” to fortify Florida communities and infrastructure to mitigate damage from weather events.
“We’re prepared, you’ve gotta be prepared either way,” DeSantis said about hurricane season in 2022. He said the season was expected to be more active this year, but whether or not that happened, the state was ready. “We also have $264 million to improve Florida’s state parks, which we have some really really good state parks.” He called the investment there historic. DeSantis said that the state had not only honored its commitments but exceeded it.
Then, he announced a new application portal for grant programs that would open for Florida residents to apply for grants. The site was “FloridaTogether.gov,” which would allow people to apply for aid as needed.
“I think it’s done well, and the portals are open to apply for wastewater grants, innovative tech, water quality improvement grants for Biscayne Bay, and Spring Coast watersheds,” DeSantis said. Portals for Resilient Florida and other programs would also be opening soon.
The speakers gathered at the event along with the governor praised his efforts to protect the environment and make the state better for the future, thanking him for his leadership on these issues. DeSantis took questions after praising the state budget again.
The first question was about a recent straw poll pitting DeSantis against former President Donald Trump for a potential 2024 run.
He said he didn’t follow straw polls, “they just put my name in these things. What am I supposed to do? Do they sell merchandise and everything, I’d kinda like to get royalties,” but then pivoted back to what was happening with the state budget.
Then he answered a question about a special session on Constitutional Carry and a potential ban on drag shows. He did not address the gun question, but focused on the drag show portion.
“We have child protective statutes on the books, we have laws against child endangerment, I think this came out of Dallas, Texas. They had these young kids, they must have been 9 or 10-years-old, where they were putting money in the underwear of…that is totally inappropriate,” DeSantis said. “That is not something that children should be exposed to. We probably, we may have the ability to deal with that if something happens.”
He said there was a lot of “graphic language” and video of the event, calling it “disturbing.”
“We just want our kids to be kids,” DeSantis said. “Part of the reason why we fought the fight with Parents Rights in Education, is because there’s a movement to inject these things like gender ideology in elementary schools even, and my view is our schools need to be teaching these kids to read and write, and add and subtract. And do the things that are supposed to be done in school. Injecting these agendas into it is wrong, that’s why we did the Parental Rights in Education bill.”
DeSantis said, regarding Texas, “isn’t exactly known to be San Francisco,” and that it was a “relatively conservative state culturally,” saying that “targeting kids with all of these stuff…it used to be kids would be off limits. Used to be everybody agreed with that, and now it just seems like there’s a concerted effort to exposing these kids more and more to things that are not age appropriate.”
He said Florida was a family-friendly state and should remain that way, a state that people could get a high quality education and be a good place to raise a family without “having a political agenda shoved down their throat.”