TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a $109.9 billion state budget bill that includes pay raises for state workers and law enforcement, as well as tax suspensions on gas, diapers and school supplies.
The Republican governor signed the budget legislation at an event in The Villages, the nation's largest retirement community, where supporters packed out a recreation center and applauded as he highlighted his pandemic policies and spending priorities while criticizing Democratic President Joe Biden.
“What we're doing in the budget is making sure that we're meeting the obligations, making sure we're funding key priorities but also, protecting the state against what very well may be a Biden-induced recession,” said DeSantis, who is running for reelection and is considered a potential frontrunner for a 2024 GOP presidential bid.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled statehouse approved the budget in March on a largely bipartisan basis after a legislative session dominated by bitter partisan fights over bills involving race, sex, gender and abortion.
Included in the budget's many provisions is a 5.38% raise for all state employees, increases in teacher salaries and funding to boost the minimum wage for state workers to $15. The state has also set aside money to provide for up to $5,000 signing bonuses for new or out-of-state law enforcement officers who join policing agencies in Florida. Existing Florida law enforcement officers will also receive a 5% pay raise or have their salary increased to $50,000.
The budget also includes various state tax suspensions, which the governor and others have said are needed to help combat economic inflation. The state will suspend the sales tax on diapers and baby clothes for the 2022-2023 fiscal year and create a two week tax holiday on clothing, shoes and school supplies between July 25 to August 7, among other tax suspensions.
The Legislature, following a request from DeSantis, created a one-month gas tax suspension in the budget for October, which will lower the price of gas by about 25 cents a gallon. Republicans have said they chose October, a month before statewide elections, because there are typically fewer tourists in the state at that time. The governor had originally asked for a five-month suspension of the state gas tax.
The governor also vetoed $3.1 billion in spending from the budget, cutting various line items including $1 million for a food harvesting program for low-income or unemployed people, $20 million for new state aircrafts and millions for college renovations and remodels, among other things.
House Democrats on Thursday were quick to criticize the new budget, saying it did not adequately help Floridians with rising housing costs and noted that the budget is padded with federal funds from the Biden administration.
“The Governor doesn’t like to mention this, but Florida’s budget includes nearly $40 billion in federal money this year. It’s unfortunate that despite having record cash to work with, we couldn’t do more for Floridians struggling with a housing crisis and global inflation," said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the incoming leader of the House Democrats.