TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at the Florida State Capitol, holding the event at the Cabinet Meeting Room to announce his proposed budget plan for the new fiscal year. The overall budget would be $114.8 billion, according to state documents.
DeSantis said he was there to announce his “Framework for Freedom” for the 2023 state budget, praising previous years’ budgets and the current level of state reserves. As in the past, DeSantis criticized inflation, supply chain disruptions, and high energy costs but said that “Florida is stronger than ever,” particularly with its unemployment rate, compared to the rest of the United States.
He said the new proposed budget would have $3.4 billion in the state’s budget stabilization fund. The governor said that the state’s budget proposal had total reserves of $15.7 billion across a variety of programs, as well as $6.9 billion in unallocated general revenue.
DeSantis said the state would also be proposing a total of $2 billion in tax relief, including $500 million from the already enacted toll relief program for 2023.
“That strong performance shows you the state is going in the right direction,” DeSantis said. “Now, you look at that and you see those reserves and that is $15.7 billion, not even counting what the revenue is going to look like by the end of June.”
DeSantis said things in Florida were going well and revenue was “churning,” causing the state to have to revise its budget estimates due to higher economic performance.
“Even being conservative, you’re probably looking at another $1 billion, $1.5 billion,” DeSantis said. “And not just for people moving here, all the people that visit here. We’ve been very strong on infrastructure historically in Florida, not just with me.”
DeSantis said some “critical projects” needed to get underway, referencing an earlier proposed announcement to relieve traffic congestion at 20 key locations across Florida and saying those programs would be completed a decade earlier than initial expectations.
Saying California had “a massive budget shortfall,” DeSantis said Florida did not want to be like the Golden State, and that strong reserves must be ensured and that amid “persistent inflation” for a state that was growing and had infrastructure needs, tax relief was needed to meet needs and return money to the people.
DeSantis promised to propose permanent sales tax exclusions on childcare products from baby food to baby clothes, diapers, and cribs and strollers. He also said there would be a permanent exclusion on taxes for pet medications, saying animals were “part of our families too.” Gas stoves would also remain tax free, according to the governor.
“We’re not even a state—Florida, wasn’t even connected, we’ve got mostly electric. It’s just the principle of…this is ridiculous,” DeSantis said. “And they do want to go after it. They got blowback, so they kind of had to back off, but we want you to be able to buy those free from the state of Florida as far as taxes.”
The governor also said tax-free proposals would be implemented for children’s books and toys, dental care products, kids’ athletics equipment, household items under $25 such as detergent and trash bags, toiletries, and pet food too.
“This is going to be really, really good for families in Florida, and if you do this stuff and a family commutes, and if they have young kids and all of this stuff, you’re talking potentially thousands of dollars in savings,” DeSantis said.
Turning to relief for small businesses, the governor announced $140 million for small business tax relief, allowing businesses to save on sales tax payments to the state, in addition to sales tax holidays in the spring and fall for school supplies, and 14-day disaster preparation tax holidays, a continuation from the year before.
DeSantis also proposed a 15-week sales tax holiday for what he called a “Freedom Summer,” building on previous years’ Freedom Week tax holidays. The holiday would cover outdoor recreation, events and museum tickets. The non-toll relief tax proposals would cover what DeSantis said was $1.5 billion. All together, the $500 million for toll relief equaled $2 billion.
He also said that Florida would not have inflation for college tuition, again preventing cost increases and saying that it was the most affordable state for higher education in the U.S.
To meet the needs of Florida’s growth, DeSantis announced eliminations of state government positions to reduce fulltime employees and “cut dead weight.” He said the state debt was $20 billion, while the state economy was $1 trillion, making the debt to gross domestic product ratio 1.5%, contrasting it with a critique of federal debt levels.
“Contrast that with the federal government. The debt is bigger than the overall national economy, the debt to GDP ratio is like 130%,” DeSantis said, calling Florida the polar opposite, fiscally.
He announced a debt reduction program, starting with $400 million to get debt paid off ahead of schedule and said the per capita debt was $767 per resident, while the national debt was $90,000 per U.S. citizen. DeSantis said the state would also take $1 billion and make a new state investment fund. He also said funds would be put toward remaining fiscally secure and avoiding deficits.
“Florida, we’re built to succeed now and deep into the future,” DeSantis said. “These debt policies are going to be very, very positive.”
The governor turned to education plans, saying that Florida was the best when it came to education freedom and was ranked highly for public higher education and affordability. He said the coming legislative session would boost the education freedom ranking even higher.
DeSantis said that while Florida was ranked fourth for reading and math in 4th Grade scores, if you “control for demographics, we would clearly be the best in the country.” The governor said there would be $26 billion for K-12 education, $1.6 billion for early childhood education and VPK, and another $1 billion to raise salaries for Florida teachers.
As he said in recent events and briefings, DeSantis took aim at teachers’ unions for how he said they affect teacher pay and salary negotiations. Saying they play politics with teacher salaries, DeSantis proposed using budget legislation to ensure teachers get the money they’re supposed to be paid on schedule. He also said there would be an increase in per-pupil spending, for $205 more per student, a total of $8,453 each.
The state would also be paying $400 million for school safety and mental health programs at Florida schools, $5 million for security at Jewish day schools, and $10 million for teacher recruitment seeking retired veterans and first responders to fill teaching positions.
For higher education, the Bright Futures scholarship program would be fully funded at $614.5 million. Additionally, DeSantis reiterated the creation of a $100 million fund for faculty recruitment at Florida colleges and universities. The plan was announced at a Bradenton event on Tuesday, as well as proposed reforms for higher education and specifically the New College of Florida.
DeSantis also said the state remained committed to workforce training programs too, calling them essential. The state’s affordable housing programs would also be fully funded, including the Sadowski Fund, plus $100 million to go to the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund and more for broadband development in underserved areas and rural infrastructure.
Budget plans for Energy Star appliances, skilled worker tool sales tax holidays, and extensions on natural gas fuel taxes were also proposed, plus a plan to spend $695 million to retain staff in law enforcement, corrections, and child protection investigation positions, as a way to recruit for “critical vacancies.”
The governor’s plan also includes increases to fight the fentanyl epidemic and a proposal to increase conservation efforts, clean water initiatives, and a “doubling down” on recruitment bonuses for law enforcement initiatives in Florida. He promised a $124 million budget for salary increases across state law enforcement agencies.
During a question and answer session, DeSantis skipped over a question about the newly released revisions to the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies program framework. He said he had not read it yet and would have to answer later.
Another question came, focused on the state’s migrant relocation program, DeSantis said it had a “deterrent effect” and that people were “sick of having an open border with no rule of law,” saying that using tools available, people should stand up. The 2023 plan includes $12 million to “continue implementation” of the 2022 budget program.
Discussing housing issues in Florida and economic downturns, DeSantis said he expected a national downturn but that Florida would weather it. He said the state was built to withstand it.
Asked about staff removals, DeSantis said the state would propose statutes and legislation to remove university diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and staff and banning state schools from spending on those programs.
Staying on education topics, DeSantis said the recently proposed school choice legislation was only somewhat factored into the state budget, but said he was supportive of school choice programs.
Referring to an announced special session on the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governing body for the land around and containing Walt Disney World, DeSantis said the legislation would ensure the company is not outside the law and that “they pay their bills,” saying the framework would “bring some sense” to the issue and saving Floridians from paying tax burdens for the Walt Disney Company.
On energy needs such as natural gas and oil, DeSantis said left-leaning politicians don’t touch the cleanest fuel, nuclear, and that plans to switch to windmills were just part of a method of control. He said Florida rejects those measures.
Answering a question about the death penalty in Florida, DeSantis again took issue with the status of Nikolas Cruz’s sentencing and how a non-unanimous jury decisions had saved him from a death sentence for the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. DeSantis then turned reporters to Chris Spencer for further questions on the budget proposals and ended the briefing.