(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis began his State of the State address Tuesday thanking the Florida Legislature for making “Florida the freest state in these United States” before highlighting proposal in his recommended $99.7 billion budget.
The legislature began its 2022 session Tuesday and will convene over the next 60 days to draw up new congressional and legislative districts and vote on several legislative priorities, including DeSantis’ budget.
The budget proposal includes a gasoline tax holiday, increased pay for teachers and law enforcement, historic funding for education and environmental conservation, and a range of jobs initiatives to bolster Florida’s economic growth.
Before highlighting his budget priorities, DeSantis took the opportunity to declare that ongoing lockdowns, restrictions and mandates don’t work and have no place in Florida.
“While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, we have protected the right of our citizens to earn a living, provided our businesses with the ability to prosper, fought back against unconstitutional federal mandates and ensured our kids have the opportunity to thrive.
“Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions,” he added, pointing to students being denied in-person instruction in other states “due to reckless, politically-motivated school closures.” He also pointed to mandates that are denying basic freedoms and the ability to earn a living “due to a coercive biomedical apparatus.”
The unprecedented policies of lockdowns and mandates, DeSantis said, “have been as ineffective as they have been destructive. They are grounded more in blind adherence to Faucian declarations than they are in the constitutional traditions that are the foundation of free nations.”
He reiterated that “Florida is a free state,” affirming, “We reject the biomedical security state that curtails liberty, ruins livelihoods and divides society. And we will protect the rights of individuals to live their lives free from the yolk of restrictions and mandates.”
Because Florida is free, he maintains, Florida has prospered.
DeSantis’ $99.7 billion budget proposal includes more than $15 billion in reserves – one of the largest surpluses in state history.
In 2021, Florida’s revenues exceeded estimates by billions of dollars, he said, with December’s revenues totaling more than $500 million over the latest monthly estimate.
Florida’s fiscal prowess, he noted, was achieved while having no state income tax and the lowest per capita tax burden in the U.S.
DeSantis also highlighted Florida’s job creation rate, which was six times faster than the nation’s as of last November.
Florida also leads the nation in business formations, which increased by 61% since he took office in 2019. Last year, 114,000 new businesses were formed in Florida.
Fiscal stability, economic growth and job creation are all proof that “freedom works,” DeSantis said. “Our economy is the envy of the nation. And the state is well-prepared to withstand future economic turmoil.”
While federal policies continue to drive record inflation, his “Freedom Budget” includes a $1 billion gas tax holiday to help reduce prices at the pump for Floridians.
It also includes a record $23.9 billion in funding for education, of which $13.3 billion would go to K-12 public schools and $4 billion to state colleges and universities, with no tuition or fee increases.
Over the past two years, the legislature increased the average minimum salary for teachers by more than $6,000. Last year, it provided $1,000 bonuses to every public school teacher and principal in the state. This year, DeSantis’ budget proposes a second round of $1,000 bonuses.
Education funding also includes overhauling and expanding workforce development programs, grants and scholarships, and growing its skilled workforce. With more businesses moving to Florida, he said, “We should also be actively encouraging businesses to repatriate production back to America from foreign countries. Do we really want our supply chains to be captive to the whims of a country such as Communist China?”
DeSantis also highlighted funding to safeguard Florida’s natural resources, improve water quality and restore the Everglades, which has already received bipartisan support.
The budget proposal also includes funding to give a second year of $1,000 bonuses to all police, fire and EMTs in Florida, increase pay for state law enforcement by up to 25%, and $5,000 signing bonuses for law enforcement personnel that transfer to or begin their careers in Florida.
Florida’s lawmakers must approve a budget before it goes into effect,.
DeSantis’ budget also would address the southern border crisis by requesting funds from the legislature to pay for the state relocating illegal foreign nationals who arrive in Florida to other states.
“Rather than defend our sovereignty and enforce the border, the federal government has released hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to communities across the U.S., shipping them to Florida at alarming rates, including by sending clandestine flights in the dark of night,” DeSantis said. “As a state, we cannot be a party to what is effectively a massive human smuggling operation run by the federal government. Companies who are facilitating the movement of illegal aliens from the southern border to Florida should be held accountable, including by paying restitution to the state for all the costs they are imposing on our communities.”
DeSantis’ proposal requests funds from the legislature “so that when the feds dump illegal aliens in Florida, the state can re-route them to states that have sanctuary policies.”
By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor