Local lawmakers, lobbyists and labor leaders said the $109 billion state budget Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Thursday is a qualified success for Tallahassee and Leon County.
The celebration over a historic 5.3% across-the-board pay raise for state employees and a new $15 minimum wage for state workers was partly overshadowed Friday morning by the vetoes of $1 million earmarked to the Second Harvest of the Big Bend and a $50,000 appropriation for the Leon Works Expo and Junior Apprenticeship Program.
More:What was cut from Florida’s budget? Search Gov. DeSantis’ veto list
“That’s kind of crushing. The two things that get vetoes are food and jobs,” said Jeff Sharkey of the Capitol Alliance Group, Leon County’s lobbyist at the state capitol. “There really are no more important issues than food and jobs so that’s disappointing.”
Though the longtime lobbyist was quick to add that the pay raise “is huge” for the region.
The Leon Works Expo connects youth with employment opportunities. It also receives funds from Tallahassee and Leon schools.
State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, reviewed DeSantis’ 12-page veto list that totaled more than $3 billion, saw the two local projects that were axed and said “overall Leon County did well.”
Tant also found the Second Harvest veto disappointing.
The food bank serves 17 North Florida counties and planned to use the money to buy delivery vans and refrigeration equipment.
“Feeding America is looking to expand Second Harvest’s service area with mobile food pantries into food desert neighborhoods,” said Tant, who had submitted the project request.
The food organization’s program was among a list of projects for what are considered “financially constrained” counties. State Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, pointed out a number of those items did not make it fit DeSantis’ budget review.
More than a half dozen local projects, however, did get approved along with the pay raise for state workers, so Ausley said overall, “This is a great budget for North Florida.”
More on DeSantis’ budget:DeSantis budget includes raise for state workers, new emergency operations center
More on-state minimum wage:Florida lawmakers consider banning cities, counties from setting local minimum wages
Ausley represents more than 19,000 state employees in Leon and Gadsden counties. The 5.3% pay raise and $15 minimum wage starting July 1 will boost the area’s payroll by at least an additional $40 million annually.
That money is in addition to another $12 million in local funding requests, along with $80 million for construction of a new state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
“There’s funding for water projects in both Leon and Gadsden,” Ausley said. “And funding for streetlights in Midway, a police station in Chattahoochee and a maternal health program in Havana.”
Sharkey said the Leon delegation did secure money for the county’s top priority, $400,000 to improve grading around Fred George Sink and capture debris to protect Wakulla Springs.
But he, along with Ausley and Tant said the big prize was the state worker pay raise. Lawmakers directed an additional $1 billion towards salaries and increase the pay to state workers, first responders, corrections officers and teachers.
Florida has the smallest and least expensive state workforce per 1,000 residents among the states.
Bringing home the bacon:What Leon legislative delegation got into 2022-23 state budget
Leon lawmakers’ 2022 session agenda: Work, new jobs, aid to North Florida counties
According to the Department of Management services, the average pay among Career Services employees is $37,668, while the statewide average is $51,000.
AFSCME, the labor union representing state workers, said it “appreciates” the state recognizes there’s been “years of undervaluing” workers.
“Our members deserve annual raises like this one so that state employment pays living wages and continues to be a sustainable career option for professionals,” said Vicki Hall, president of Florida AFSCME. “Too many workers are leaving for more rewarding employment elsewhere and the state is unable to maintain adequate staffing levels.”
Local projects funded in the 2022 –2023 state budget:
Tallahassee Lighthouse at-risk mentorship program: $250,000
The mentorship program by the nonprofit Omega Lamplighters works with boys in grades 4-12 to decrease gang related activity. It requested the money to purchase laptops and tablets, literacy materials and to pay for workshops and college tours.
Leon County Sheriff Office Behavioral Health Program: $250,000
The LCSO Behavioral Health and Occupational Wellness Program requested the grant to develop a mental health resiliency initiative to assist smaller partner agencies in surrounding counties.
Panhandle Holocaust Education: $300,000
To fund an Outreach Coordinator and assistant to conduct training workshops for panhandle teachers, statutory mandated to teach Holocaust Education, and to expand programs for the annual Holocaust Education Week.
Fred George Wetland Project: $400,000
The project was Leon County’s top request for the session. The money will be used to regrade five acres wetland to prevent debris from flowing into Fred George Sink on to Wakulla Springs. The project will restore wildlife habitat, rehydrate wetlands, and improve discharge into the Floridan Aquifer and directly benefit the Wakulla Springs.
Tallahassee TEMPO Workforce Training program: $500,000
A Tallahassee initiative that provides scholarships to acquire GEDs, high school diplomas and to attend college or technical and vocational schools.
AMIkids Prevention Program: $750,000
AMIkids provides Gadsden County youth with mental health, substance abuse, mentoring, and vocational training services as a juvenile diversion program.
Gadsden County Emergency Operation Center: $10 million
The Gadsden EOC and Sheriff’s office is currently housed in a 30-year-old building that does not meet hurricane building codes and lacks space to house all agencies needed during an emergency.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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