Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks before signing the “Florida Leads” budget in June 2021. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE/Contributed

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $99.7 billion budget seeks to invest more in the environment, raise pay for law enforcement and teachers and fully fund programs for affordable housing.

Legislators in the state House and Senate will convene for their first day of session in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Adoption of a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is among the tasks for the legislature before the 60-day session concludes on March 11. 

DeSantis presented his “Freedom First” budget to the legislature and Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls last month. The governor said his fourth budget highlights Florida’s resiliency and strength, while showing commitment to fight for Florida’s families, freedoms and future. 

“In Florida, we have put freedom first – protecting Floridians’ freedom to earn a living, to operate businesses and to choose educational options tailored for their children,” DeSantis said. “As a result of our commitment to freedom, Florida’s economy continues to thrive and Floridians are better able to provide for their families. I am proud to announce my budget proposals that will build on our foundation of freedom by investing in priorities that matter to our residents.”

Throughout his time in office, DeSantis has made Everglades restoration a priority with hundreds of millions invested in projects. That commitment continues in his budget proposal, with $372 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. CERP is a framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the Everglades ecosystem. The plan is a 50-50 partnership between Florida and the federal government. The state and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) have invested around $2.3 billion in CERP-related land acquisition, project design and construction. 

To help send more water south, DeSantis’ budget includes $69 million for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. The project includes a treatment wetland that will clean water and a reservoir that will store excess water from Lake Okeechobee. The project, which DeSantis signed an executive order to expedite during his early days in office, is a joint effort between the SFWMD and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state began construction on its component of the project, the stormwater treatment area, in 2020. In April, the SFWMD governing board approved an agreement with the Army Corps that keeps them on track to construct the reservoir component. 

On the education side, DeSantis is proposing $600 million in funding to continue elevating K-12 teacher salaries across the state to a minimum of $47,500. In 2020, DeSantis asked lawmakers for $900 million for teacher pay increases and bonuses. The COVID-19 pandemic affected revenues, however, bringing lawmakers to agree on $500 million for teacher pay increases. 

DeSantis’ budget proposes $23.9 billion in state funding for the K-12 public school system, which covers costs associated with current projected enrollment of 2.98 million students in the state. Around $1.4 billion is being proposed for early child education, including more than $406 million for voluntary pre-kindergarten. 

Pay increases for law enforcement are also proposed within the governor’s budget. In total, DeSantis is recommending $75.4 million to increase the base rate of pay for over 4,500 state sworn law enforcement officers. Entry-level officers would see a 20% increase in their pay, bringing the average filled position base rate to $61,200. Non-entry level officers would receive a 25% increase. 

In addition, DeSantis is proposing $1 million to establish the Out-of-State Law Enforcement Equivalency Reimbursement to help cover costs for officers moving to Florida. 

As for affordable housing, the governor’s budget proposes to provide $355.5 million to fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Funds. Historically, the pot of money was used to fund other initiatives or projects that weren’t related to affordable housing. The legislature came to an agreement last year that funds wouldn’t be swept for other causes. 

The Sadowski Fund was created in 1992 to provide funding to the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program and the State Housing Incentives Partnership (SHIP) program. The governor’s budget proposes $95 million for SAIL and $220.5 million for SHIP. 

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).