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FL House $4.1 Billion Budget Would Close Visit Florida, Fund Environmental Projects

Rep. Holly Raschein
News Service of Florida
"I'm very pleased to present a budget proposal that continues to invest in our commitment to Everglades restoration and protecting Florida's water resources," said Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican.

Gov. Ron DeSantis would get more than the $625 million he requested for environmental projects, Florida Forever would see a funding cut and Visit Florida would be shuttered, under parts of a House budget proposal released Tuesday.

The House and the Senate began releasing budget proposals Tuesday as they prepare to negotiate a final spending plan in March for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The House is proposing $4.1 billion in the agriculture and natural resources part of the budget, up 3.7 percent from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The proposal includes $646.8 million for DeSantis’ requested environmental projects.

"I'm very pleased to present a budget proposal that continues to invest in our commitment to Everglades restoration and protecting Florida's water resources," said Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican who chairs the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

The House proposal includes $318.3 million for Everglades restoration, nearly $4 million less than what DeSantis requested in his overall $91.4 billion budget plan. The House also wants $122 million for wastewater and stormwater grants, which includes efforts to get property owners off septic tanks, $28 million below the governor’s proposal.

The House is offering $20 million for Florida Forever, $80 million below DeSantis’ proposal for the land preservation program, which prior to the recession a decade ago was funded at $300 million a year. The current year’s budget has $33 million for Florida Forever.

The House proposal meets DeSantis’ $50 million request for the state’s natural springs and $50 million for beach restoration.

Slightly exceeding DeSantis, the House wants $22.8 million for efforts tied to combating algal blooms and red tide, including $10 million for technologies and short-term solutions to address algal blooms and nutrient pollution.

Another $6 million from the House would go to the state’s resilient coastline initiative, of which $4 million is to help coastal communities prepare for the effects of rising sea levels.

The House is also offering $19.1 million to pay citrus canker eradication claims in Lee County and $42.2 million for claims in Orange County. That comes after long-running litigation — including a Lee County case pending at the Florida Supreme Court  about whether the state should be forced to compensate residents whose healthy citrus trees were cut down.

In addition, the House budget proposal includes $23.1 million to combat ongoing problems with citrus greening disease.

The transportation and tourism part of the House’s budget proposal has $13.4 billion for roads, housing, elections and the military, including $95.6 million for economic development efforts.

Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said the proposal would maintain base funding for “various” economic-development programs and would maintain the current $18.5 million in funding for Space Florida.

No money would go to Visit Florida, the state’s embattled tourism-marketing agency.

House leaders argue that Visit Florida’s marketing efforts aren’t necessary to draw tourists to the state. That clashes with the view of Senate leaders and DeSantis, who have advocated to maintain the public-private agency’s funding at $50 million next year.

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill (SB 362) by Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, that would extend the legal authority for Visit Florida until Oct. 1, 2028. If the authority is not extended, Visit Florida will be eliminated July 1, under state law.

With Florida gearing up for a presidential election year, Trumbull said he wants $8.4 million in new election funding that would include $1.3 million to cover 10 employees for a new cybersecurity section, which has been requested by DeSantis and is sought by the Florida Department of State.

Trumbull called the request "substantial funding to support the governor's initiatives to maintain and strengthen the integrity of our election systems."

Another $1 million would be available to local supervisors of election through cybersecurity grants, with an additional $1.4 million going to meet DeSantis’ request to join the Electronic Voter Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, which is a consortium of states that share voter registration information.  County supervisors of elections have long sought to join the national program.

Trumbull is also seeking $7.9 million for communities that sustained damage in Hurricane Michael;, $6.3 million to replace the Panama City Armory, which was damaged by Hurricane Michael; $3 million to design a new state emergency operations center; and $1.2 million to update the statewide regional evacuation program.

The House is seeking $147 million for affordable housing programs, including $25 million for the hurricane housing recovery program.