- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s line-item veto of two federal block grants worth $29 million has sparked controversy and triggered the cancellation of an additional $346 million in federal funding block grants.
- The vetoes forced Florida’s withdrawal from a program that would have provided money to Florida consumers for rebates on energy efficient household appliances.
- DeSantis’s decision is seen as a political move to refuse federal money from the Biden Administration, potentially boosting his presidential campaign.
- But the move also draws criticism because the funds required no additional commitments from the Florida budget, essentially returning federal tax dollars to the state, but those dollars will now be distributed to people in other states.
Tongues are wagging among Tallahassee policy wonks and political operatives following Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s June 15th line-item veto of a pair of relatively small federal block grants, totalling a mere $29 million. That’s because the seemingly innocuous vetoes set into motion the state’s withdrawal from a program that would have delivered two follow-on federal grants scheduled to return an additional $346 million directly into the pockets of Florida citizens through a rebate program.
Politically, the move sets DeSantis up to declare that he’s refusing to accept any more federal money from the Biden Administration. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for more information about DeSantis’s reasoning for the vetoes, so it’s not clear if the governor was aware of the cascading impact of his decision. But political insiders view it as a calculated strategy meant to bolster his presidential campaign and take away a Biden Administration talking point highlighting DeSantis’s previous acceptance of federal dollars for other programs.
DeSantis’s vetoes of line items 1463A and 1463B, both federal block grants that required no expenditures from the state’s own budget, went largely unnoticed in the days immediately after the budget signing ceremony.
Line item 1463A, a $24 million grant, would have been channeled to Florida under the title “Grants And Aids To Local Governments And Non-state Entities.” The money relied solely on funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment And Jobs Act Funding and would have cost Florida nothing. The intended use for the funds was to upgrade rural wastewater motors and improve the efficiency pumping infrastructure in smaller counties across the state.
An even bigger impact, though, rests in DeSantis’ veto of line item 1463B, a seemingly innocuous $5 million grant through the Federal Inflation Reduction Act, intended to set up required planning and accountability infrastructure for a larger tranche of federal cash aimed at improving energy efficiency across all 50 states. To qualify for the larger block of funds, states were expected to set up the accountability programs first. But the veto set off a chain reaction, killing off Florida’s efforts to meet the federal requirements, which in turn effectively disqualified Florida from receiving two larger federal block grants, each worth $173 million, or $346 million in all.
This isn’t the first time a Florida governor has turned down federal funding. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott turned down $2 billion in infrastructure funding from the Obama Administration, but those funds required Florida to commit to a substantial sum of additional state money to pay the difference in the cost for a high-speed rail network, which Scott said (and subsequent news reports later confirmed) would cost billions more than those federal funds provided.
In this instance, though, the federal funds had no state encumbrances, and were set to be channeled by the little-known Florida Department of Energy overseen by Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson. Inquiries made by The Capitolist confirmed that the Energy Department had contingency plans in place for the funds to be channeled into consumer-oriented programs including homeowner rebates for investments in smart-home thermostats and energy efficient appliances, ultimately returning the money directly into the pockets of Florida taxpayers to spend as they saw fit.
But now, with the vetoes, The Capitolist has obtained a trio of draft letters (below) to be sent to the Biden Administration from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) that confirm the state’s forfeiture of the funding and withdrawal from the block grant programs. The unsigned letters indicate DeSantis’s vetoes as the reason for the state’s formal withdrawal from the federal program.
It is unclear how many other states, if any, have refused their own share of the federal dollars, so it’s possible that Florida stands alone in the decision. All 50 states received block grant allocations under the same program and had broad authority to develop programs to spend the dollars on energy efficiency improvements. As a result of the vetoes, federal dollars paid by Floridians will likely be distributed to other states, potentially opening up DeSantis to criticism that his refusal of the funding not only hurts Floridians, but allows more progressive governors to use Florida’s money to promote more progressive energy initiatives.