The good news: teachers will get their raises and the Everglades Restoration Project funding is largely intact. The bad news is that Gov. Ron DeSantis cut funding for the Florida Keys Environmental Stewardship Act and workforce housing.
On June 29, the governor signed into law a $92.2 billion state budget after cutting $1 billion for programs like those mentioned above as well as education programs ranging from technology programs to early-learning initiatives. The decrease in spending is intended to offset the state’s financial losses due to the COVID19 pandemic. The governor also directed $800 million in unspent money to be reverted back to state agencies whose fiscal year ended on June 30.
“Despite the present challenges Florida faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget ensures the state’s priorities are protected and funded,” said DeSantis. “Our current economic landscape is vastly different since the Legislature passed this budget in March. As governor, I must remain a mindful steward of taxpayer dollars. This budget reflects a steadfast commitment to Floridians by safeguarding important investments in key areas including education, the environment, infrastructure, public safety and more.”
State Rep. Holly Raschein — who championed the Florida Keys Environmental Stewardship Act, signed into law in 2016, and who is ending her last year in office due to term limits — is understandably disappointed.
“Is this how I wanted to come ‘home’? No,” Raschein said. “But the governor made unprecedented cuts to the budget. There’s a pandemic going on and strong and bold decisions need to be made and the governor did that.”
Over the past four years the state has funded the Stewardship Act with $34.3 million. The money is used for water quality projects (wastewater, stormwater and canal restoration) and land acquisition.
The money for the Everglades Restoration Project is in the 2020 budget.
“That’s near and dear to my heart. I oversaw that budget and worked really hard to make it happen. It also includes other environmental projects such as coral restoration and the coastal resilience initiative,” Raschein said.
Affordable housing funds were also sacrificed in the pared-down budget. The governor vetoed $225 million from the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) from the Sadowski Trust Fund, intended for affordable housing. According to news reports, the governor’s decision moves the money back into the fund.
Earlier this year, both houses of the Florida legislature agreed to spend money from the Sadowski Fund for affordable housing, its intended purpose, during the 2020-21 fiscal year. That was big news because, historically, the legislature “sweeps” the fund to pay for other state programs. According to the Florida Home Builders Association, between 1993 and 2018, the Sadowski Act has generated a total of $5.9 billion — and more than a third of the fund’s total revenue has been diverted from the trust fund. This will be the 13th consecutive year Florida has diverted money from the trust fund. (The trust fund is paid for with a small surcharge on every real estate transaction in the state.)
The budget does, however, provide $145 million to fund workforce and affordable housing programs. The State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program is funded with $115 million and the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program will receive $30 million. These programs are administered by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC).
State Sen. Anitere Flores — who also is reaching the end of her last term — said she’s pleased the funding for teacher salaries is in the budget.
“I give the governor high points for preserving the teacher pay raises,” Flores said. “For Monroe County it doesn’t mean as much because our starting teachers are already making the maximum amount, but several millions are allocated to the Keys for salary increases for new and veteran teachers. Just as important as the funding is the commitment to teacher pay and recognizing their importance.
“It’s unfortunate that Key Colony Beach didn’t get funding for its new city hall, or that the Little White House in Key West didn’t receive its funding, but the governor is going to need that money to provide free testing and fund hospitals. The cuts are understandable.”
Governor cuts Keys funding out of the budget:
• Florida Keys Stewardship Act – $10 million
• Mote Marine Laboratory Stem Education – $1.5 million
• Windley Key & Key Heights Affordable Housing – $1 million
• Key West Collegiate Academy Building – $500,000
• Key Colony Beach City Hall Repair – $500,000
• Marine Research Hub – $500,000
• Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Stock Island Reverse Osmosis – $500,000
• City of Homestead: Breast Cancer Screening – $500,000
• Income Tax Consulting & Preparation $300,000
• Guidance Care Center – $300,000
• Key West Glass Crusher – $300,000
• Truman Little White House Digitization & Protection of Archival Collection – $250,000
• Community Health of South Florida – Children’s Crisis Center $250,000
• Laurel Wilt Mitigation Program – $150,000
• Homestead Automatic Flushing System – $150,000
• Cutler Bay Wetland Restoration Project – $100,000