Gov. Rick Scott’s spending priorities for 2018 continue to take shape as he enters his final year in office with a major statewide election on the horizon.
The Republican governor wants the Legislature to increase spending on environmental programs by more than $220 million next year. Scott planned a visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples for the announcement.
Scott wants to spend $355 million for Everglades restoration. He wants $50 million for Florida Forever, a popular land preservation program that conservationists have said has received too little money in recent years. He wants nearly $40 million more for state parks, a $36 million uptick in beach restoration programs to $100 million, and $55 million for springs restoration.
Scott’s record on the environment has been controversial on issues ranging from climate change to offshore oil drilling. Early in his tenure, he called for major budget cuts to the state’s five regional water management districts, and in non-election years he called for budget reductions in the Department of Environmental Protection.
However, Scott’s appointment in May of Noah Valenstein as DEP secretary won praise from environmentalists, including Audubon’s Eric Draper, who was with Scott for Monday’s announcement in Naples.
“I do think this is the year for environmental spending,” said Draper, who has walked the halls of Florida‘s Capitol for many years. “It’s a great budget for the Everglades. He (Scott) is following through on his commitment to springs and he’s stepping up for land conservation and for parks.”
Draper added: “My job as an advocate is to take advantage of these election-year moments and to try to get everything we can.”
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill for the 2018 session to increase Florida Forever spending by $100 million.
The Legislature zeroed out new money for the program in last spring’s regular session, which prompted talk of “Florida Never.”
Nearly two months ago, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, renewed his call for $50 million more for beaches. Latvala, a candidate for governor, proposed a similar program in the 2017 session, but it faltered in the House.
Scott will leave office in January 2019. He’s widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.
The governor’s call for more environmental money is his fifth spending initiative in recent weeks.
He has also called for pay raises for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers; a separate $4,000 starting pay raise for state troopers at the Florida Highway Patrol, an agency long hampered by rampant turnover due to low salaries; $50 million more, shared between the state and the federal government, to battle the opioid epidemic, and $1 million for enhanced security at Jewish day schools in Florida.
The chief state economist, Amy Baker, has cautioned members of the Legislature that the state could face a revenue shortfall over the next three years and that the fiscal aftershocks of Hurricane Irma will make the state’s budget picture “much worse” next year.