Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to spend $25 million next year and more in coming years to set up a program that would help address coastal flooding and other climate-change impacts across the state.
Money for the proposed Resilient Florida grant program would be in addition to $625 million that DeSantis is seeking from lawmakers to continue Everglades restoration efforts and other water-related projects. DeSantis has sought and received money for those projects the past two years.
DeSantis released the environmental spending priorities Thursday as part of a $96.6 billion overall budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal is a starting point as lawmakers prepare to negotiate a 2021-2022 budget during the legislative session that will start in March.
The Resilient Florida program would include issuing bonds to help provide $1 billion over four years to state and local agencies to address climate impacts. The $25 million in the 2021-2022 budget would be used to help finance the bonds, with the amount increasing each year until it reaches $100 million in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, according to summaries released Thursday by DeSantis’ office.
“The purpose of this is to tackle the challenges posed by flooding intensified storm events, sea-level rise,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ requests came after legislative leaders have repeatedly warned of budget cuts because of shortfalls stemming from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said Thursday he hadn’t had time to review DeSantis’ proposed budget, but lawmakers are "happy to take the governor’s input, his recommendations" and will "build it into the puzzle that is our very, very large and very complicated state budget.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, was more critical, saying her Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had submitted a scaled-back budget request because of the “historically poor fiscal situation facing our state.” She said the request would meet minimum standards for operating the agency.
“The proposed budget (by DeSantis) mostly meets those bare minimums, but it’s disappointing that when our hard-working farmers and ranchers most need help due to hundreds of millions in losses, this budget proposes cutting Fresh From Florida funding not only $500,000 in the coming year, but actually takes back $680,000 from the current budget,” Fried said in a prepared statement.
Under DeSantis’ proposal, money for Resilient Florida would come from real-estate documentary taxes. Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment directing a portion of those taxes to go to land and water conservation efforts.
Among other issues in his budget proposal, DeSantis is seeking $50 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program, which is half the funding in the current year; $50 million for beach renourishment; $32 million for state parks; and $2.5 million to remove tires and other threats to coral reefs.
Some environmental groups hoped for more from DeSantis, particularly with the Florida Forever program. Environmental groups have tangled in court with the state over allegations the Legislature did not properly carry out the 2014 conservation amendment.
"As our state continues to develop rapidly with record increases in home sales and values, we need to be adequately investing in our future by fully funding the Florida Forever conservation programs,” said Lindsay Cross, Florida Conservation Voters’ government relations director. “In 2014, voters smartly voted to dedicate funds for conservation to balance the impacts to our natural environment from development. Those funds are based on documentary stamp revenues which have increased by $61 million this year, ensuring that we can return to historic funding levels of $300 million (for Florida Forever) - but only if our legislators finally enact the will of the people.”
Since his 2018 election, DeSantis has made a priority of putting $625 million a year into Everglades restoration and other water-related projects. The bulk of DeSantis’ new request, $493 million, would go into continued Everglades efforts.
He’s also asking for $50 million for the state’s natural springs, $25 million for the continued fight against harmful blue-green algae and red tide, and $145 million for water-quality improvement projects that include stormwater system upgrades and septic-to-sewer conversions.
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg was quick to praise DeSantis for his environmental request.
“This continued investment in America’s Everglades will not only help build critical water infrastructure that will advance the restoration of a national treasure, but it will create and save jobs, boost our state’s tourism-based economy, and yield tangible benefits for Floridians,” Eikenberg said in a release. “This funding has always been important, but it is essential now to support Florida as our economy rebounds from the impacts of the pandemic.”