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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday vetoed a record $3.1 billion from a state budget crafted by Republican legislative leaders — and he wanted them to see up close what he had done.
GOP leadership from the state House and Senate stood at DeSantis’ side during a news conference in The Villages as he announced the record veto list. At times during the hourlong press conference, the governor directly poked fun at them as they laughed and clapped, a continuation of the Legislature’s fealty to a governor who has run roughshod over them as his reputation as a national Republican rock star and potential 2024 presidential candidate has grown.
“They may not be clapping about that, but that’s just the way it goes,” DeSantis said of the possibility legislative leaders on stage were upset he vetoed their spending priorities.
None were, though, as each Republican lawmaker on stage grinned ear-to-ear after DeSantis made the comment, some visibly signaling they were not upset. Those who joined DeSantis included Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and incoming GOP Senate leader Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) as well as Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor).
After DeSantis’ remarks, a handful gave their own comments replete with praise of DeSantis.
“How about Ron DeSantis, America’s governor,” said Simpson, echoing the nickname conservatives across the country have bestowed upon Florida’s governor.
Simpson, an industrial egg farmer, is currently running for agriculture commissioner and has secured DeSantis’ endorsement.
DeSantis vetoed several high profile budget items sought by Simpson and top Senate Republicans from the spending plan, which was sent to the governor at $112 billion but will take effect next month at $109 billion. It still remains the biggest spending plan in state history despite the massive vetoes.
DeSantis vetoed $645 million secured by the Senate during final budget negotiations for the Department of Corrections to build a new prison; $350 million for Lake Okeechobee aquifer storage wells that were a Simpson priority; $50 million for a new 6th District Court of Appeals in Lakeland, the home of Senate budget chief Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland); $50 million to widen a county road in Simpson’s district; $20 million for two new state planes that the Senate requested; and $20 million that was a Simpson priority for Moffitt Cancer Center to secure front-end financing so it can begin development of a planned 775-acre life sciences park.
During the March conclusion of the Legislation session, Simpson called the Moffitt project, which is in his district, “transformative.”
The House was not spared in DeSantis’ veto carnage.
The governor cut a $1 billion fund proposed by the House to help the state grapple with the cost of inflation. Under the proposal, the $1 billion would have been set aside to help fund increases in material costs for state projects as inflation continues to remain high. As proposed by the House, it would have been called the “Budgeting for Inflation that Drives Elevate Needs Fund,” or BIDEN fund, a nod to spiking inflation under the Biden administration. Senators did not agree to that name, but did sign off on $1 billion in funding for the program.
Hammering Biden on inflation has been one of DeSantis’ favorite pastimes in recent months, including during Thursday’s budget signing press conference, which he opened up by referring to Biden as “Brandon.”
“You look at what he did in terms of fiscal and monetary policy, printing and printing trillions of dollars,” DeSantis said. “What did you get for that? Most sustained inflation this nation has seen in over 40 years.”
Left unsaid was the more than $10 billion Florida has received from the Biden administration in Covid-19 relief funding over the past two years, including roughly $3.5 billion in the budget DeSantis just signed.
DeSantis also scrapped a House plan to take $200 million from school districts that defied the DeSantis administration’s ban on mask mandates. Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) wrote the plan, which would have blocked the money from being accessed by 12 counties that put in place school mask mandates against DeSantis’ order. But the governor blocked that idea freeing up the funding for all districts.
“I direct the Department of Education to implement the Florida School Recognition Program consistent with this reading of the language, which is to reward eligible schools for their achievements, as districts’ actions have no bearing on a school’s eligibility,” DeSantis wrote in a letter accompanying his veto list.
“I am somewhat befuddled by the letter,” Fine told POLITICO in a text message. “The language in the bill was explicit and clear.”
Sprowls also took no issue with the vetoes, focusing his remarks on DeSantis’ decision to largely keep Florida’s economy open during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has bolstered state coffers.
“You guys have heard a lot of great news already about this budget,” he said. “This budget is as good as it is for the people of Florida for one reason and one reason only: and that is because our governor kept our state open.”
The massive veto list does come as Florida is flush with cash. The newly signed budget includes more than $20 million in reserves, and just this month state economists revised revenue estimates up by more than $800 million compared with previous forecasts.
DeSantis also vetoed a request by Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor, for 83 positions to process and review concealed carry permits, which is a function overseen by her office. Fried blasted the decision, which comes on the heels of a wave of mass shootings across the country, as reckless and another signal the governor wants open carry, or allowing people to carry firearms without a permit.
“Ron DeSantis just vetoed my concealed carry positions because he wants open carry,” Fried tweeted. “This is so dangerous and a warning to every Floridian, tourist, and business. Do NOT allow him another term.”
Andrew Atterbury contributed to this report.