TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A year ago, the Florida Legislature ended its annual session several days late amid fears for the future as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold. This year, lawmakers closed out their session by midafternoon on the last of 60 days, passing a $101.5 billion budget on Friday.
That was 2020, and the new budget of $101.5 billion may be a seemingly impossible amount. That is an increase of nearly $10 billion over the current state spending plan, bolstered by federal relief money and aided by a quicker-than-expected economic rebound.
It comes as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has lifted nearly all restrictions in Florida.
The Senate unanimously approved the budget before the House voted 117-1 in favor. The only “no” vote came from Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is know as a conservative firebrand.
“I don't buy this cheesy argument that the federal supplemental spending money somehow excuses government spending in insane ways,” Sabatini said in a phone interview. “It's just too much government and too much spending.”
DeSantis noted during the traditional handkerchief drop ceremony that marks the ceremonial end of session that times are looking up compared to 2020.
“It was a very ominous time for our state and for our country. I remember we did not have this gathering,” DeSantis said. “The clouds were gathering on the horizon and we still weren't exactly sure what the future held.”
Last year, DeSantis vetoed a billion from the budget and ordered state agencies not spend all the money appropriated to them. There were dire predictions of budget deficits, especially since Florida has no income tax and heavily relies on tourism to pay the bills.
“Today, and what's been achieved in this session, says that this next year, 2021, the state of Florida's come roaring back,” DeSantis said.
Among other bills passed on the final day was a measure that expanded the sales tax holiday on school and hurricane preparation supplies from seven to 10 days. But Lawmakers went even further this year and declared there will be a sales tax “Freedom Week" that will eliminate sales tax on things like museum and music season tickets, fishing and camping gear, kayaks and surfboards.