Friday marked the last day of the legislative session, and the state legislature agreed upon a record-setting budget bill.
“State lawmakers on Friday signed off on a record $101.5 billion on the state budget that has left both Republicans and Democrats happy — mostly,” The Tampa Bay Times reported.
The Sunshine State appeared to be in financial trouble last year when sales tax revenues took a massive hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the state reopened quicker than many, and as a winter vacation destination for many Americans, those sales tax revenues came roaring back.
Approximately $750 million will be spent on existing maintenance and construction projects for Florida’s schools, including state-funded colleges and universities.
The bill includes COVID-19 relief in the form of direct payments to some Floridians, too.
“Teachers, police, firefighters and paramedics can expect $1,000 bonuses,” according to the report, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) requested on behalf of those who worked during the pandemic.
The state’s minimum wage for its own employees also increased to $13 per hour, avoided making budgetary cuts to its hospitals, and increased its Medicaid budget by $5 billion.
Florida’s wildlife was top of mind for lawmakers who passed the budget.
“Lawmakers are spending $300 million to acquire land for Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, $500 million to combat sea level rise and an equal amount converting septic tanks to sewers,” the report said. “Another $58 million would go to Everglades restoration and $25 million to remove derelict vessels.”
On the education front, $6.8 billion in federal relief was placed into the coffers of the Florida Department of Education, and the state agreed to shell out $46 million “to help homeless children and youth and give them extra help in light of the pandemic.”
Federal money from the American Rescue Plan helped, too.
Congress sent about $10 billion to Florida as part of President Joe Biden’s federal COVID-19 stimulus plan. Florida will only spend $6.7 billion of that money, and now has a surplus of $6 billion, the most in state history.
DeSantis is partly to thank.
He anticipated that the state would take a financial hit due to the pandemic, and ordered state agencies hold six percent of their budgets in reserve.
“The clouds were gathering on the horizon. We weren’t exactly sure what the future held,” he said Friday.
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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Florida Senate Capitol” by Michael Rivera CC 3.0.