Will Atkins: The Values of DeSantis’ 2024 Budget

During last year’s legislative session, Florida Republicans largely bowed to Governor DeSantis’ wishes when it came to the annual budget. However, with the Governor’s presidential bid in shambles, the Florida GOP may find that they have more ability to push back on his demands.

In December, the Governor released his “Focus on Florida’s Future” budget proposal 30 days before the start of the legislative session, as required by Florida law. Presumably, this allows legislators the lead-time necessary to draft bills in accordance with the Governor’s wishes before the start of the legislative session.

His proposal totals $114.4 billion, which is $4.6 billion less than last year, and includes more than $1.1 billion in tax relief, mostly through sales tax holidays and exemptions on homeowners and flood insurance policies, as well as over-the-counter pet medications. The budget proposal also includes spending increases for education, health care, environment, public safety, and infrastructure, as well as debt reduction and savings.

The budget also illustrates how DeSantis is exploiting his position as Florida’s governor for personal gain as he attempts to run for President. Due to his poor performance in Iowa, DeSantis included $100 million in his budget for a rural and family protection program – despite vetoing this exact program only six months ago. Expect DeSantis to use his State of the State speech, which is scheduled for the week before the Iowa Caucus, to highlight this convenient flip-flop and obvious pandering to Iowa voters.

He also included another $5 million for his human trafficking stunts, offering to reimburse those who transport undocumented immigrants to other states. Besides being an absurd affront to human rights, this program would seem to go against DeSantis’ own anti-immigration law that he signed into effect in September, which made it a crime to transport undocumented immigrants.

DeSantis often rails against perceived “indoctrination” of Florida teachers and students, but offers up $3,000 bonuses for teachers who complete Hillsdale College-created civics training. I guess he only wants his own indoctrination to occur. After all, with some of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation, what teacher wouldn’t sit through a 40-hour course for that bonus?

Senator Lauren Book called DeSantis’ budget a “delusion,” especially as DeSantis calls for the reduction of 1,000 state jobs, primarily in the overburdened and critical areas in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health. These cuts will worsen the staffing crisis, while allowing DeSantis to push for privatized prisons and reductions in COVID vaccine and opioid epidemic support.

When it comes to Florida’s property insurance crisis, DeSantis is equally delusional. His budget increases funding for the My Safe Florida Home program by $107 million. Talk about a drop in the bucket. That amount wouldn’t even eliminate the backlog of applications that have already been approved but are delayed due to a lack of funding. In fact, this increase will only help 10-15,000 households (out of the 8 million households in Florida). These ineffective bandaids will do nothing without comprehensive and long-term solutions, such as reforming the insurance market, strengthening building codes, and mitigating climate change.

In all, Florida Republicans would do well to reject the Governor’s attempts to prioritize the interests of the wealthy and powerful over the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized. I also question the fiscal responsibility of declining federal funding (almost 40% of the state budget is funded with federal dollars) and then asking Florida taxpayers to foot the bill. This budget proposal does nothing to address the needs of the millions of Floridians who lack health insurance, access to affordable housing, or adequate social services. It also ignores the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the rising costs of living on the state’s economy.

The proposal does not invest enough in public education, especially for students with special needs, low-income families, and English language learners. It undermines the constitutional authority of local school boards by diverting funds to private and charter schools through vouchers that have already shown to be spent on tickets to Disney World and video game consoles.

The budget also does not adequately prepare the state for the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, coastal erosion, extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss. It also fails to promote renewable energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or support clean transportation options.

The budget does not benefit all homeowners equally, as it favors those who have higher-value properties, live in flood-prone areas, or are able to purchase high-rate insurance policies. It also reduces the state’s revenue base, which could limit our ability to fund essential services and programs in the future.

But I suppose these are all features – not bugs – of DeSantis’ budget proposal. He’s more concerned with fighting culture wars and his presidential aspirations than fighting for everyday Floridians. They say that budgets speak to our values in terms of what we prioritize. What does this budget say about what DeSantis values?

Will Atkins is a proud Democrat and Air Force veteran fighting for the people of Florida. You can find him on Twitter at @WillAtkins4FL and Instagram at @WillAtkinsFL.

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