DeSantis pushes for police, teacher bonuses in budget plan

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday debuted his budget proposal for the coming year, requesting bonuses for law enforcement and teachers, a pause on the gas tax and a host of environmental protection projects.

DeSantis, a Republican, rolled out the $99.7 billion budget recommendation, which he called the “Freedom First Budget," attributing the state's financial health to his opposition to coronavirus lockdowns and mandates.

“Freedom works in Florida. We’re proud of that, we’re proud of being viewed as a free state, and I think that the economic results are something that have been very, very positive,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee.

VIEW: Full budget proposal

The proposal is DeSantis's final budget before he goes up for reelection. The document serves only as a recommendation to the Legislature, but Republicans control the House and Senate and have previously worked closely with the governor to meet his budget priorities.

In his plan, DeSantis requested nearly half a billion dollars to raise the salaries of state employees. Public school teachers and principals would get $1,000 bonuses and the minimum teacher salary would reach $47,500. The budget does not raise tuition or fees at the state's college and universities.

Salaries for both entry level and experienced law enforcement officers would also increase, and the budget calls for $5,000 signing bonuses for experienced law enforcement officers who relocate to Florida or for state residents who join law enforcement agencies. The governor previously pledged to offer bonuses to police officers who move to the state, as part of his criticism of vaccine mandates and attitudes toward law enforcement in Democratic-run cities and states.

The governor's budget requests a handful of temporary state tax holidays, which he said were necessary to offset rising gas prices and inflation he blames on President Joe Biden, a Democrat. DeSantis is widely considered to be eyeing a 2024 presidential run.

He proposed a five-month pause on the state's gas tax for next summer, a weeklong lifting of sales taxes on certain outdoor recreational purchases, as well as 10-day suspensions of sales taxes on certain school supplies and disaster preparedness items, such as generators.

“As we've seen inflation take off in various sectors of our economy, Floridians need relief from that,” DeSantis said Thursday. “And while we can change the policies in Washington that are driving that, we can do our best to step up and provide relief for Florida families who need it.”

Republicans are lining up behind the governor’s proposal. In a statement, State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-District 16, calls it: “...a conservative, common sense budget that maintains Florida’s position as a leader in job creation, quality of life, and freedom. From education to economic opportunity, the Freedom First Budget will make Florida families and businesses a top priority and will undoubtedly benefit our state for generations to come.”

DeSantis critics were quick to slam the budget proposal as politically-motivated.

“Time and time again Governor Ron DeSantis leads with political rhetoric,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, told reporters after the budget was released. ”He continues to use his bully pulpit, and in this case the state budget, for his own political ambitions.”

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, said the governor’s budget plan does not do enough to address a teacher shortage in the state.

“We’ve seen vacancies in our schools increase dramatically, and seen fewer people coming into the profession, and we’ve even seen an inconsistency in the sense that the governor recognizes with law enforcement that experience counts but fails to recognize that fact when it comes to educators,” said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar.

The proposal calls for things that State Rep. Angie Nixon, D-District 14, but she criticized the governor’s messaging.

“It does have a lot of democratic leaning values and budget requests in there but again, it doesn’t go far enough,” Nixon said. “And you know, that gas tax break that he’s touting is actually -- $1.2 billion of that is coming from the federal government.”

News4JAX asked political analyst Rick Mullaney for his analysis.

“This is an election year budget, and on the policy side, there’s big ones -- there’s the environment, there’s education, and there’s public safety, and there’s money in there for all three,” Mullaney said. “But I think you can expect the matter that those will be three areas that the governor will be talking about a lot in 2022 when the election’s coming up, and on the politics side, of course, it’s inflation and rising gas prices and it’s COVID. And he addresses that in this budget, too.”

Among other things, the governor has asked that the legislature set aside nearly $1 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality improvements, as well as $52 million for resiliency planning and coral reef protection. His budget also earmarks funding for environmental cleanup efforts, the mitigation of harmful algae and the expansion of facilities to care for manatees.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.