TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Wednesday at the state’s Capitol in Tallahassee, making proposals for a new “Framework for Freedom” 2023-24 state budget.
Totaling $114.8 billion, the governor’s office said in a statement that the budget would continue “DeSantis’ commitment to Florida’s K-12 students, parents and teachers, environmental resources, and law enforcement, all while maintaining healthy reserves, including $6.9 billion in General Revenue.”
[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider]
“So this is a big deal in terms of this budget. I think it’s going to meet the needs of the people of Florida, it’s only possible because we’ve been a state that’s been able to thrive over these last few years and we’re going to continue those policies going forward,” DeSantis said. “I look forward to working with the legislature to be able to bring some big victories back home for people all throughout the state.”
$42.4 billion in the budget would serve as its General Revenue portion, including $6.9 billion in reserves. The state’s total reserves would come to $15.7 billion, almost 14% of the total budget for the fiscal year.
[READ THE BUDGET PROPOSAL BY CLICKING HERE]
DeSantis touted $2 billion in proposed tax savings, with $500 million set aside for toll relief alone. Further measures would include $138.7 million in sales tax exemptions for baby and toddler necessities “such as clothing, shoes, and diapers for children under 5, and all baby wipes,” $3.9 million for cribs and strollers alone, $33.6 million for over-the-counter pet medications and $7 million for gas stoves, all permanent.
Proposed sales tax holidays include a $138 million “holiday rescue year” which would apply to household items under $25, a 15-week $224 million “freedom summer” holiday for sales tax exemptions on outdoor recreation purchases and two back-to-school sales tax holidays comprising $210 million in the budget for clothing, supplies and personal computers under certain dollar amounts.
Help in retirees’ financial security would come in the form of a 3% rise in employer contributions to employee Florida Retirement System investment accounts, as well as a 4% rise to retired FRS members’ pension benefits.
A statewide pay package of $695 million was proposed ”to retain staff and continue to recruit critical vacancies such as law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and child protection investigators.”
Watch News 6+ in the player below for live news and original programming:
$30 million would go to furthering $5,000 bonuses for out-of-state law enforcement officers who come to work in Florida, DeSantis said.
The budget proposal included the establishment of a debt-reduction program that would pledge $400 million to pay down state debt, as well as a $1 billion “State Investment Fund.” The latter fund would be used only in the event that the Budget Stabilization Fund (BSF) is depleted, DeSantis said.
“So this is basically taking surplus that we have and saying ‘OK, instead of it just sitting there, why don’t we put it to good use?” It’ll be in terms of tapping into it, it’ll be below the Budget Stabilization Fund, so you’d have to exhaust the BSF before you could even get to this. I don’t perceive that being necessary,” DeSantis said. “It’ll be invested by the State Board of Administration, the first 3% of the returns go back into the funds so they can continue to build the fund, the next 2.5% on top of that will go to the debt reduction program and so we’ve put (in) money for that, then this will continue to feed money into that if they have positive returns and everything above that 2.5% will go to general revenue.”
The Bright Futures Scholarship Program would get $614.5 million in the budget’s education-related proposals, with other items including $1 billion “to provide salary increases for new and veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel” and $15 million “for the institutional overhaul and restructuring of the New College of Florida.”
The Republican governor on Tuesday announced plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and critical race theory. The measure is expected to be taken up by the GOP-controlled state house when its regular session begins in March.
DeSantis on Wednesday said such DEI programs would be abolished via changes to state statutes.
“I don’t think it’s been a good use of money and I think it’s really about furthering ideology rather than actually trying to promote equal treatment, so that is going to happen, I’m pretty sure, and that will be reflected in terms of the universities just won’t be able to spend it,” DeSantis said. “As you guys know, we don’t dictate whatever universities spend on certain things, like I don’t agree with everything but we don’t micromanage every little thing, but there are certain things where you can say ‘OK, here’s a red line, you’re not gonna go there,’ and that’s something they’ll have to respect.”
The governor also took questions on upcoming developments, such as an expected special session next week to hash out the future of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“The state’s gonna have a board to run it, so Disney will not have self-governing status anymore. We’re going to make sure that there are no special legal privileges and that they’re abiding by the same laws, that’ll be in the bill, and then making sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes and paying the debt,” DeSantis said. “You remember when we did this people said ‘Oh, all the Floridians are gonna get soaked with the Reedy Creek debt and all these people’s taxes are gonna go up;’ not happening, and we said that at the time and now we’ll have a great framework in place to be able to bring some sense to this and just understand that it’s not right to put one company in this special status and so what we’re really doing is just doing equal treatment, and I think it’s exactly what we said we would do.”
[STORY CONTINUES BELOW]
A reporter asked DeSantis if he intended to sign a ‘constitutional carry’ gun bill proposed earlier this week and a potential six-week abortion ban.
“We’re for constitutional carry, we’re for pro-life. I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign,” DeSantis said.
See Wednesday’s news conference again in the video player below:
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: