TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis took a break from campaigning for president Tuesday to unveil his $114.4 billion budget proposal for 2024, which includes $409 million in temporary tax and fee relief for property insurance premiums, as well as increases in education, environmental and infrastructure spending.
He also earmarked $1 million for the state Board of Governors or Florida State University to use if they decide to sue the College Football Playoff Committee for snubbing the Seminoles.
DeSantis is proposing a one-year exemption on taxes, fees and assessments on property insurance for homeowners whose properties are worth up to $750,000, which the governor’s staff said works out to about a 6% cut for the average Florida homeowner.
That doesn’t come close to the double- and triple-digit increases that many Floridians have suffered through in recent years as average premiums have risen to $6,000 a year, the highest in the nation.
“It’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the increases, sometimes two to three times higher than what folks were paying,” State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. “We need serious reforms to provide robust savings to consumers.”
DeSantis’ plan would pay for 1,000 fewer state jobs than the 112,812 jobs in the current budget, including 500 unfilled positions at the Department of Corrections, which has endured a critical staffing shortage for years.
That’s just bad policy, Eskamani said. “If anything, we need more staff, not less.”
The 2024 budget recommendation is $4.6 billion less than the current state budget, but includes a $3 billion increase in the state reserves, bringing them up to $16.3 billion.
The Legislature, which goes into session on Jan. 9, approves the final state budget, but DeSantis has line-veto power and has used that in the past to trim billions of dollars from what lawmakers OK.
“Here in Florida we do it right,” DeSantis said during a news conference at the Marco Island Charter Middle School, noting the state’s recent AAA credit rating from Moody’s. “We’ve had an approach that has been fiscally more responsible. We had record tax reductions yet managed to run a big budget surplus.”
Echoing campaign points, DeSantis compared his budget plan to New York’s, which is twice the size of Florida for millions fewer people, and California, which he said is facing billions of dollars in deficits.
“Ron says that his budget ‘respects the taxpayers’ of Florida, but his refusal to address property insurance, the housing crisis, and cost of living are a slap in the face to struggling Floridians,” said Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried, adding that the governor has spent more blasting California that he has “proposing positive solutions for Florida.”
DeSantis also is proposing a permanent insurance premium tax exemption flood insurance policies that would cost $22 million.
“While I have major concerns over many of the Governor’s stated priorities like cutting state jobs, slashing arts and culture funding, and spending on unnecessary litigation, I also see signs of hope in this budget suggestion on issues such as the ongoing insurance crisis,” Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation said in a news release.
“We need to do anything and everything we can to help Floridians – that includes more of these policies to give back to Floridians so we can fully address the pain they’re feeling in their pocketbooks,” she added in response to an email from the Orlando Sentinel.
DeSantis also proposed a historic $27.8 billion in education spending, of which $15.1 billion would pay for K-12 spending, an increase of $175 per student for a total of $8,842 a year.
His budget also includes a $200 million increase for teacher salaries to $1.25 billion and more funding for private school vouchers and civics education. The budget also has $45 million in bonuses for up to 15,000 teachers who complete the state’s Civic Seal of Excellence civics training course.
DeSantis’ budget would also increase spending for school safety measures, including efforts to protect Jewish day schools, student mental health and workforce education initiatives to help youngsters who do not want to pursue a traditional college degree.
Teachers union responds
But Florida’s teachers union said his budget does not do enough to address ongoing teacher shortages in public schools nor the need for better pay for all teachers.
“Florida voters know the importance of supporting all teachers and staff who work in Florida’s public schools,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a statement.
DeSantis has pushed for higher starting salaries for teachers and said that will continue, with the money earmarked specifically for teacher raises. “We don’t want it spent on bureaucracy or red tape,” he said.
His policies have boosted starting pay, but many veteran teachers have seen only small pay hikes as a result. Florida ranks 16th in the nation for starting teacher pay, for example, but 48th for average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association.
Many voters also dislike the governor’s “divisive approach to education,” according to a recent poll commissioned by the state teachers union, and his support of laws that limit instruction on topics such as racism in America and LGBTQ topics.
Under DeSantis’ proposal, tuition at the state’s colleges and universities would stay unchanged, as it has since former Gov. Rick Scott’s time in office.
The Bright Futures scholarship program would be fully funded, covering up to 100% of tuition and fees for students with top test scores and grades. The governor’s budget recommendations include $150 million to recruit, replace and retain university faculty.
He also budgeted $740 million for Everglades restoration, a continuation of a commitment he made during his first year in office.
“This substantial increase in funding means that our state, which relies on the Everglades economically, while providing drinking water for millions of Floridians and tourists, will see continued progress toward restoring the Everglades,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.
The plan also has additional funding for the signature affordable housing bill that Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, got approved last session, and more money for the My Safe Florida Homes program.
And there is $127 million to provide services to people with disabilities, enough to get 1,100 people off the waiting list for services.
It includes continued funding for the state guard the governor and Legislature revived last year, as well as millions of dollars in immigrant interdiction programs.
And it contains $15.6 billion to help accelerate the state’s five-year road construction program.