Florida governor’s budget plan: Teacher pay, fewer pythons

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday proposed a $91.4 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins in July, a spending plan he says will help attract teachers to the state while getting rid of more pythons.

The proposal is about $400 million over the current Florida spending plan. One of the largest increases in the proposal is $600 million to raise the minimum salary for public school teachers to $47,500. DeSantis said that means 101,000 teachers would see a pay increase.

It also includes a $1 million boost to hunt down and remove pythons that have overrun the Everglades.

“We are upping the investment to help eradicate the Burmese python out of the Everglades,” DeSantis said. “That’s been a problem for a number of years. The efforts have been stepped up recently. We want to go ever further and get that done.”

DeSantis has enjoyed high approval ratings since taken office in January, in part because he’s gone far beyond his predecessor, Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, in pushing environmental issues. While Scott was a climate change skeptic, DeSantis has said it’s one of the low-lying coastal state’s top concerns.

DeSantis said he wants to spend $625 million a year for the next three years on environmental projects.

“That’s over $300 million for Everglades projects, $150 million for water quality improvements, $50 million to reduce nutrients in the water, $50 million for springs restoration, more than $22 million to combat the effects and impacts of algae and red tide, over $50 million for beach renourishment, $9 million to protect coral reefs,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis is also proposing creating 549 new state jobs, mostly for the Department of Corrections and to staff new nursing homes for veterans.

“The total top line recommendation is actually a decrease in per capita spending,” DeSantis said, noting the state’s population growth over the year. “The initiatives we’re doing, I think are bold, I think they’ll be very meaningful. That’s all taking place within a context of a budget that’s very, very healthy.”

The proposal is simply a recommendation, and the state’s spending plan will largely be shaped by the Legislature after it begins its session Jan. 14. Once lawmakers present him with a budget, DeSantis will be able to veto individual items.

Last year, DeSantis originally proposed a $91.3 billion spending plan. The Senate proposed a $90.3 billion spending plan and the House suggested $89.9 billion. The Legislature eventually approved $91.1 billion at the end of their 61-day session, and DeSantis vetoed $131 million out of the plan.

“Governor DeSantis’ budget recommendations reflect many priorities my Senate colleagues and I share. We very much appreciate the Governor submitting these recommendations nearly a month in advance of the deadline,” Republican Senate President Bill Galvano said in a news release. “In the coming days and weeks, we will evaluate the Governor’s budget in more detail.”

DeSantis made it a point to highlight his proposals on school spending, including $75 million to help make schools more secure. That’s $25 million more than what’s in the current budget.

And while his proposal creates more state jobs, he’s also recommending 141 be eliminated, nearly all of which are vacant. The positions are from a variety of government agencies.

While DeSantis wants $300 million for teacher and principal bonuses on top of raising teachers’ minimum salary, he isn’t proposing across the board raises for state workers.

"The Governor's budget recommendations are most encouraging. He is to be commended for a strict adherence to fiscal restraint,” Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva said through a spokesman. “While the details of his ambitious teacher-pay program remain obscure — not a small matter — his commitment to responsible spending is crystal clear.”