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DeSantis injects politics into $115B Florida budget proposal

Governor Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference where he spoke of new law enforcement legislation that will be introduced during the upcoming session, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised tax relief Wednesday on children’s books, pet food and even the gas stoves that have become a rallying cry for Republicans while assuring that the state has plenty of reserves to withstand any economic downturn.

He's also seeking another $12 million to prevent immigrants in the country illegally from arriving in Florida, similar to the money he spent to fly almost 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, last year.

DeSantis' annual state budget proposal outlined during a news conference in Tallahassee is nearly $115 billion, but is only a recommendation. The Legislature will approve a final budget during the annual session that begins next month.

But DeSantis has proven he usually gets what he wants from the GOP-dominated Legislature, and he's likely to see little resistance from House and Senate leaders as the governor builds a case for a possible 2024 presidential run.

And while DeSantis said he expects bad news for the national economy that will affect the state, he said Florida is in good shape.

“When you have $15.7 billion in reserves, when you have $3.4 billion in your rainy day fund, you are prepared to be able to weather those types of storms,” DeSantis said. “We are built to be able to withstand that.”

DeSantis also used the announcement to make political jabs. Republicans have expressed outrage since a study suggested gas stoves could cause health problems and some have questioned whether they should be banned, and DeSantis said liberals are coming after stoves.

“It needs to be done — no tax permanently on gas stoves,” DeSantis said. “They want your gas stove and we're not going to let that happen.”

DeSantis' use of the gas stove issue had Democrats rolling their eyes.

“Is it really in there?” Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said about the gas stove sales tax, adding that calls to ban them have been a joke. “Nobody took that seriously. He has no sense of humor.”

Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore also pointed out that DeSantis continues to use a nameless enemy (though presumably liberals) on culture war issues.

“This is what the governor does. He pits people against each other. So who are ‘They?’ The conspiratorial they that want to take our gas stoves away, that want to indoctrinate our children ... the they that is the bogeyman d'jour,” she said. “It was completely silly.”

And the ongoing effort to relocate immigrants is also a political move aimed at the Biden administration and one that will surely be a talking point during a presidential campaign.

“We've had a deterrent effect,” DeSantis said. “People are sick of having an open border with no rule of law in this country, so we can just sit here and do nothing about it or we can actually stand up and say, ‘Whatever tools we have at our disposal, we’re going to use.'”

DeSantis is also proposing to expand sales tax holidays for school supplies as well as pushing new sales tax holidays on household supplies that cost under $25, dental supplies, toiletries, pet food and on children's books, toys and athletic equipment.

“This is going to be really, really good for families in Florida,” DeSantis said.

If the Legislature agrees, state workers would get an across the board 5% raise and state jobs that are hard to fill or retain employees would see a bump of 10%.

At this point in the process, the budget will change. DeSantis originally proposed nearly $100 billion for the current fiscal year but eventually signed a $110 billion spending plan. The final product will be approved by lawmakers and DeSantis can veto individual items.

Skidmore did praise some elements in the budget proposal, saying it addresses needs like state worker pay and eliminating taxes on diapers and baby supplies that Democrats have been seeking for years.