Gov. Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows when in the early days as governor he proposed an increase of $625 million in spending next year for environmental projects, including the Everglades restoration.
In his State of the State address Tuesday DeSantis reiterated his call for state lawmakers to take a “bold” stand on the environment.
“Given the persistent water problems we have seen over the past several years, now is the time to be bold,” he told legislators. “We cannot leave for tomorrow that which we can do today.”
But there is some question as to how much of that $625 million the governor will receive when the Legislature adopts a budget in a couple of months.
“It’s pushing it a bit giving the challenges we have budget-wise with Hurricane Michael and the impact of Hurricane Michael and what we’ve spent there already,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters after the governor’s address Tuesday.
The response to Michael is putting a strain on the state’s finances. Cleanup from the storm has already cost the state $1.13 billion. That amount could total over $2 billion when it’s all is said and done.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’ honeymoon with registered voters continues. The University of North Florida released a poll on Monday showing that 60 percent of registered voters approve of DeSantis’ job performance since taking office in early January.
Galvano acknowledges DeSantis’ popularity among voters and state legislators. But two weeks ago he insisted that “the Senate is going to operate within the Senate and we’re going to address the issues as we see fit. I’m not going to have a Senate that is a rubber stamp for the governor.”
While members of the governor’s own party believe his environmental funding request might be too bold given the state’s current financial situation as the result of Michael, those on the other side of the aisle don’t see it as being bold enough.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said DeSantis’ commitment to the environment is “on target” but fails to address one of the main threats to the state’s water quality — the restoration of funding to convert homes in many rural areas from septic tanks to sewer lines.
DeSantis’ plan to improve water quality and restore the Everglades calls for an increase in state funding for the $1.6 billion federal Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.
“We have a bold vision, we have good folks in key positions, and with your support for these initiatives, we will restore and preserve the beauty of Florida for generations to come,” DeSantis said in Tuesday’s address.
How bold of a vision that will translate into will be up to lawmakers to decide over the next couple of months.
We tried to reach House Speaker Jose Oliva for comment on the funding issue for water quality and the environment but have not received a response from his office.