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Florida lawmakers distribute $175 million for more than 200 projects

Florida state Senate president Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was applauded by his fellow senators Tuesday, after expressing his disappointment with the Florida House for ending its session three days early, instead of working through the budget clash.
Steve Cannon
/
AP
Florida state Senate president Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was applauded by his fellow senators, after expressing his disappointment with the Florida House for ending its session three days early, instead of working through the budget clash.

A legislative panel Friday approved money for more than 230 local projects and programs across the state, after receiving a detailed analysis of Florida’s financial picture from a top economist.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, with little comment, signed off on a list of “local support grants” totaling $175 million. The grants are a new program, with the list put together after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed parts of a state budget that took effect July 1.

“I think as you see cost overruns and stuff, as inflation is affecting these not-for-profits (organizations) … after the fiscal year was over and the new one started, people saw that there were opportunities within their communities that maybe needed some help,” House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said after Friday’s meeting.

The approved spending items ranged from $15 million to build a facility to house the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation program at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg to $1,250 so the Hope Haven Transitional Housing program can purchase three air-conditioner units for rooms used to assist homeless families in Highlands County.

Trumbull said the items on the list were focused on assisting local governments, educational entities or privately operated programs that support local initiatives. He said none were “identical in amount or purpose to items that were vetoed” by DeSantis.

READ MORE: Florida lawmakers could approve $175 million in local projects statewide

The list, however, included some proposals that were similar to vetoed budget items.

In one case, DeSantis vetoed $447,090 for the Li’l Abner Foundation in Miami-Dade County to expand into a second location. Lawmakers on Friday approved spending $400,000 for the foundation’s after-school program.

In another example, lawmakers approved providing $250,000 to Boca Raton for emergency generators. DeSantis vetoed $1.1 million for emergency generators at the Boca Raton City Hall and Municipal Complex.

Money for the new grant program was included in the budget, with lawmakers linking it to funds that DeSantis sought for $1,000 bonuses for first responders.

Republican lawmakers proposed nearly 200 of the spending items on the list. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, made up of House and Senate members, has authority to make mid-year spending decisions.

Earlier in Friday’s meeting, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research. presented an overview of long-term financial projections.

Baker and other economists last month estimated that state general revenue will be $5.3 billion higher than projected earlier for the current 2022-2023 fiscal year and the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

But Florida’s real-estate market could slow as mortgage rates rise and housing-affordability issues increase. Economists forecast that revenue generated through documentary-stamp taxes on real estate transactions will decline 15.6 percent this fiscal year and 10.7 percent in the 2023-2024 year..

“This is already starting to play out as we thought it would,” Baker said.

Baker also pointed to mixed signals in the economy, which is affecting expectations of a “soft landing” in a pending recession.

“There are a growing number of economists, including a big study that came out yesterday, that are saying it's not going to be a soft landing, the Fed is going to have to take much stronger action than originally envisioned,” Baker told lawmakers. “And so, there is a disagreement between the economists on where we're going to end up.”

Florida has experienced higher-than-anticipated revenue collections for more than a year --- with it being $3.85 billion over estimates for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30. That was driven, at least in part, by increased consumer spending of money saved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also inflation has driven up prices, which results in higher tax revenues.

Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.