Gov. Ron DeSantis calls his new state budget a “Bold Vision for a Brighter Future,” but it will be less than bold for most state workers. They won’t be getting a pay raise.
DeSantis’ initial $91.3 billion spending proposal for 2019-20 unveiled Friday has a long way to go through the legislative process. In fact, it’s better to look at the newly elected Republican governor’s plan as a document that gives him a platform to promote his policy issues. It will be up to the Legislature to pass the final state budget, which takes effect on July 1. But DeSantis will get the last say with his line-item veto power.
The lack of an across-the-board pay for raise for state workers, who earned an average $41,348 salary in 2017-18, is in line with recent state budgets. But there are two relatively minor pay packages in the governor’s plan.
He wants to spend about $400,000 to boost salaries in the state Division of Emergency Management, an agency that has been put to the test in recent years by a series of major hurricanes. His plan also includes $1.5 million to pay state restaurant and hotel inspectors more money. DeSantis noted the quality of the restaurants and hotels is important to the state’s tourism industry.
Overall, DeSantis proposed increasing the state workforce of 113,000 employees, excluding the university system, by some 793 workers.
One of the biggest boosts he envisions is to hire 573 workers in the state prison system to provide better mental-health care to inmates as part of a court-ordered improvement plan. Another 145 workers would be hired under his plan to staff new nursing homes for veterans.
But the budget plan would eliminate the Agency for State Technology completely, which has 13 positions, including five current vacancies. DeSantis wants to move the technology operation to the Department of Management Services.
Salary increases might be in the future for teachers across the state – depending on how local school districts allocate state dollars.
DeSantis wants to increase per-student funding in the 67 school districts by $224 per student in his $21.7 billion kindergarten-through-high-school budget. If it gets funded by lawmakers, it will be up to the local school boards to decide whether it’s enough to increase teacher pay.
The governor’s budget also provides $423 million for the existing “Best and Brightest” program that financially rewards high-performing teachers and principals with up to a $6,000 annual bonus.In the coming weeks, DeSantis said he will also unveil plan to overhaul the current program, where the eligibility is based in part on the college entrance exam test scores, like the SAT, for the teachers.
Teachers have complained that using decades-old test scores is not an appropriate way to gauge their classroom effectiveness. And a federal lawsuit has been filed, alleging the program discriminates against older teachers and minorities.
DeSantis said his overhaul will eliminate the college test score requirement.
School safety was another area for emphasis in the governor’s budget.
His budget would increase mental health funding for the schools by $10 million to a total of $79 million. School safety funding for the 67 districts would increase by $50 million to $211 million.
The governor’s budget includes $98.9 million in grants for increased security measures at schools. And it would continue a $67.5 million program that pays to screen and train armed “guardians” for schools. So far, about $10 million of the guardian funding set aside in last year’s budget has been spent.
Other highlights of the governor’s budget plan include:
–$338 million for the state’s affordable housing program. DeSantis said if lawmakers agree, it would be the first time in over a decade that the program has been fully funded. However, in recent years, lawmakers have swiped some of the affordable housing money – which is funded by a tax on real-estate transactions – to pay for other programs.
–$84.6 million to address the opioid epidemic in the state.
–$100 million for the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program.
–$1.9 billion in hurricane-recovery efforts, with most of it coming from the federal government to combine with $271 million in state funding.
–$625 million for environmental initiatives aimed at cleaning up the state’s waterways, including $360 million for Everglades restoration and $50 million for springs projects.
–No tuition increases for university and state college students. The budget plan would increase performance funding for the universities and colleges by $30 million for each system.
–$335 million in tax cuts. It would reduce the local property taxes for schools by $290 million by lowering the rate to account for property value increases. And it would provide two sales-tax holidays – a week-long period for hurricane supplies and three-day period for school supplies.