DeSantis proposes nearly $115 billion state budget, a record

Included in the proposal is more money for migrant relocations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has released his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has released his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. [ JAMES A. JONES JR. | Bradenton Herald ]
Published Feb. 1|Updated Feb. 23

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a record $114.8 billion state budget for 2023-24 that includes a request to spend another $12 million to move migrants from around the country.

DeSantis also wants year-round tax cuts on everyday items, including baby cribs and strollers, pet food and medication and gas stoves, and is proposing pay raises for state workers and prosecutors.

“We’re doing really, really big things,” DeSantis said Wednesday.

The governor’s budget is just a proposal. The state Legislature, which meets in March for its annual 60-day session, ultimately crafts the budget, and the governor can veto parts of it.

And DeSantis’ budget is likely to change significantly over the next few months. For instance, it doesn’t include funding for House Bill 1, a proposal by House GOP leaders that would offer every K-12 student thousands of dollars each year for their families to spend on education, which could amount to billions of dollars.

The governor has not taken a formal position on the idea. When asked about it on Wednesday, he hedged.

“We didn’t necessarily factor the entire thing,” DeSantis said. “I’m supportive of school choice. ... It depends on how they do it.”

The budget also doesn’t account for potentially more than 900,000 Floridians leaving the state’s Medicaid rolls when the federal public health emergency expires.

During the pandemic emergency, the federal government paid states to keep people on Medicaid who may no longer be eligible; in April, the state will begin reviewing the eligibility of the 5.6 million recipients to see if they should be dropped.

A DeSantis staffer said it wasn’t accounted for because they don’t yet have estimates on how many could leave the rolls.

Tax breaks

The highlight of the budget includes $1.5 billion in sales tax exemptions on a variety of living expenses.

The state would adopt permanent tax exemptions on baby and toddler necessities, such as clothing, baby wipes, strollers and cribs.

Cosmetics and toiletries, such as soap, hairspray and deodorant, would be tax-exempt for one year. So would dental and oral hygiene products and everyday household items under $25, such as laundry detergent, trash bags and tissues.

Children’s toys, books and athletic equipment would also be tax-exempt for a year. The state would also continue its regular sales tax “holidays,” such as for back-to-school supplies, disaster preparedness supplies and event tickets.

“It’s great to see more and more Republicans align with Democratic values of cutting taxes that consumers face,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a statement.

Gas stoves would also be permanently exempt from sales taxes, a response to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission official saying a ban on gas stoves could be considered.

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Related: The White House is not taking away your gas stoves and ovens

“They want your gas stove, and we’re not going to let that happen,” DeSantis said. (The commission’s chairperson has said that he is not looking to ban gas stoves and the commission has no proceeding to do so.)

Pet food would also be exempt from taxes for one year, and over-the-counter pet medications would be permanently exempt.

“They’re parts of our families, too,” DeSantis said.

More money to move migrants

If lawmakers follow DeSantis’ budget, state spending will have grown by more than 26% since he took office in 2019.

Since then, state coffers have been boosted by billions of federal COVID relief dollars and better-than-expected sales tax collections, which provide the bulk of the state’s general revenue. Some of that boost in sales taxes is coming from inflation driving up the cost of everyday items.

DeSantis has also prioritized using millions in state money on hot-button initiatives that have generated national headlines.

He’s asking for another $12 million this year to relocate migrants around the country, continuing the program that spent more than $1.5 million to fly 49 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in August.

But unlike last year’s funding, which specified migrants had to be “from this state,” DeSantis is proposing the migrants be “within the United States.”

When asked why Floridians should pay to relocate migrants in other states, DeSantis said the program has had a “deterrent effect” on migration to Florida. His staff did not respond when asked what evidence DeSantis had for the claim.

DeSantis also wants to nearly triple the size of his Office of Election Crimes and Security, from 15 to 42 positions. The office made headlines last year when it arrested 20 people who were ineligible to vote in 2020; videos showed several of them were confused about why they were being arrested.

Related: Police cameras show confusion, anger over DeSantis' voter fraud arrests

The governor also wants a big boost in funding for the newly reactivated State Guard, from a $10 million budget to nearly $100 million.

Raises for state workers and teachers

In a first for one of DeSantis’ budget announcements, about 100 state employees were in attendance in the Capitol. A DeSantis staffer in the room asked them to be “high energy” and clap when DeSantis made announcements; they obliged.

Under the governor’s plan, all state employees would see a 5% pay raise, after seeing a 5% bump last year. Statewide jobs that are considered “hard to hire,” such as accountants and auditors, would also receive an average 10% increase in pay.

Certain employees in the state court system would see additional raises, including prosecutors, court reporters and court interpreters.

DeSantis’ proposal would put forward $107.2 million to raise base salaries for correctional officers and probation officers from $20 to $23 an hour, in an attempt to combat a long-standing staffing problem in Florida’s prison system. The proposal also includes retention pay increases of $1,000 for two years of service, $500 at five years and $1,000 at eight years for corrections and probation officers.

Tammy Marcus, president of the Correctional Probation Officers chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said she’s grateful to see raises, but said the plan doesn’t account for longtime staff.

“I get it, they’ve got to raise the pay to attract good-quality people,” she said. “But at the same time, you can’t forget about the veterans that have been working at the agency for all these years, keeping the agency afloat during all the staffing issues.”

DeSantis is also proposing an additional $200 million to boost teacher pay. That would work out to about $20 per week, according to the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers.

“An approximately $20 per week increase will do little for many teachers who are struggling,” association president Andrew Spar said in a statement.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.