DESANTIS VETOES $3 BILLION IN STATE BUDGET BUT KEYS FUNDING REMAINS

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces $14 million in the budget to combat red tide in Florida during a May 7 press conference in Clearwater. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE/Contributed

A $112.1-billion budget approved by the Florida House and Senate earlier in the year was slashed some $3 billion by Gov. Ron DeSantis. While funding for the Keys remained in the budget, the governor slashed an appropriation sponsored by state Rep. Jim Mooney and approved by the legislature for a first responder behavioral intervention pilot program.

On June 3, DeSantis signed a budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year totaling $109.9 billion. An $11.7-billion investment in highways and bridges, $800 million for teacher raises, $500 for Everglades restoration and more than $733 million to protect waters and prized properties were among items included in the budget. 

“Florida has preserved freedom and kept the economy open, which has enabled the state to outperform the nation in jobs, growth, and business formations,” DeSantis said. “Our commitment to freedom has paid off.”

A $1 billion inflation fund to deal with cost increases for state contracts due to inflation was cut by the governor. In his veto message, DeSantis said the fund, House Bill 5011, could exacerbate inflation by promising more public sector funds to pay more for supplies of materials. 

“It also reduces the need for state agencies to make tough decisions with the funds already appropriated,” DeSantis wrote. 

Other items slashed were a 4,500-bed prison totaling $645 million, a new correctional hospital totaling $195 million, a new spring training facility for the Tampa Bay Rays totaling $25 million and $2.5 million for an opioid prevention program through the Florida Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs. A proposal for the purchase of two new aircraft totaling $31.3 million for use by more than 100 government officials throughout the year was also slashed by DeSantis. 

“This is an inadvisable expense, especially under current economic conditions,” he said. 

A smaller $750,000 appropriation request by Mooney sought to create a pilot project by equipping three sheriff’s offices with antidote equipment, training and access to telemedicine to help treat patients who present mental and behavioral health issues. Officers and deputies would get a simple, powerful tool to access clinicians to help de-escalate a situation or divert the person to more appropriate treatment options. Goals included creating safe communities, less taxpayer drainage due to fewer incarcerations and more productive and contributing citizens.

“If the subject accepts, he/she will be immediately connected to a licensed clinician for immediate treatment. A clinician will then decide the next best course of action including best next steps,” the request read. 

Mooney said the legislation aimed to not only prevent a disaster or unnecessary death, but also to get people to the right treatment options instead of being locked behind bars. 

“The idea was to try and make things happen across the board in a smoother way,” he said. 

Roughly $51 million for Keys projects remained in the budget signed by DeSantis. Among the items included were $20 million for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, $5 million for land acquisition and $20 million to replace aging water transmission lines.

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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).