Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a nearly $91 billion budget Friday that increases money for education and the environment — but not before cutting $131 million from the spending plan lawmakers sent him, including $18 million in projects from the Tampa Bay area..
The governor had five pages of line-item vetoes on a wide range of areas, including the $45,000 the Legislature approved for a city hall emergency generator for Labelle, population 4,700. There were also larger items on the chopping block, like $5.9 million for a new University of Florida music building.
"Certain things I think have merit, but are clearly a local responsibility, and if I fund something for one locality, do I have to do it for everybody?" DeSantis said.
The budget provides $400 million in funding for Everglades restoration, $100 million for springs restoration, $50 million for water quality improvements and $25 million to combat red tide and blue-green algae.
Florida will spend $2.9 billion on storm recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Michael, as well as preparedness for future hurricanes.
The budget also calls for spending $9.7 billion on transportation needs, with $2.7 billion going for highway construction, and another $21.8 billion in total funding for grade school through high school education.
"It's a fiscally responsible budget. I think we put taxpayers first, but I think the key issues that Floridians care about, things like environment, things like education, things like transportation, we were there to really make a difference," DeSantis said.
The signing comes nearly seven weeks after the Legislature approved the spending increases with bipartisan support. The Senate unanimously approved the state spending plan and the House supported it 106-2, with only two Democrats opposed.
The biggest question since then was not whether DeSantis would sign the budget, but what he would cut.
DeSantis originally proposed a $91.3 billion spending plan. The Senate proposed a $90.3 billion spending plan and the House suggested $89.9 billion. The Legislature eventually approved $91.1 billion at the end of their 61-day session. Minutes after the session ended, DeSantis joked, "It's going to be under 91 (billion dollars) when I get through with the budget."
He lived up to his word, vetoing enough to bring the budget to $90.98 billion.
In an interview with The Associated Press after the budget signing, DeSantis was asked if being under $91 billion was important. He said, "It wasn't necessarily I needed to get to a specific number on the top line budget, but I wanted to make sure we were beefing up the reserves a little bit more."
The budget was written without $300 million a year the Seminole Tribe had been giving the state as part of a now-expired gambling agreement that gave the tribe exclusive rights to some casino games. The tribe can still run the games, but the state no longer gets a share of the revenue.
"I would like to get a compact, but the budget that we just did, I would like to remind people, we don't have any of their money," he said. "We've shown that we can do a good, strong budget without the money."
DeSantis said he doesn't want to expand gambling in Florida, but negotiating a new deal with the tribe would provide dependable revenue while helping to make sure gambling doesn't spread around the rest of the state.