Hello and welcome to Thursday.
It’s that time of year— Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has handed over his fifth recommended budget to state legislators since coming into office. And the more than 400-page spending plan hit familiar targets (another round of money for his controversial migrant relocation program) and new ones (a tax break for the purchase of gas stoves) that appear tailored for a potential run for president. (More on that later.)
Not on the list— But in a signature moment — part of which was highlighted by his still-intact campaign team on social media — DeSantis was dismissive of Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s idea that governors should return unspent federal Covid-19 relief money to pay off the national debt.
FYI — Scott made the suggestion in January, noting that Congress had changed the law so any returned money would go to debt reduction. Flashback: When DeSantis was pressed about returning some of the billions of dollars in Covid-19 money way back in 2021 he said it didn’t make sense to send it back to D.C. because it would just go to other states.
Sorry, not sorry— Press ahead to Wednesday, where DeSantis rejected the idea on the grounds that Florida only has a “few hundred million” in Covid-19 relief money left to spend. (His recommended budget calls for spending around $500 million, including nearly $200 million on construction projects at Florida’s main National Guard training site.)
It’s only money— “If you look at how much money that is … it’s like $100 million, $200 million, a few hundred million,” DeSantis said. “How much dent would that make in the debt? I mean seriously. I appreciate when federal folks are concerned about how we’re managing this. Why don’t they get their house in order? Why don’t they stop spending so much of our money?”
Limited response — Scott’s team — without pointing out that Republicans are still in the minority in the Senate — responded by saying DeSantis should stop spending money from a “wasteful” bailout.
Please note — “Senator Scott opposed these state and local bailouts from the start,” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said when asked about DeSantis’ remarks. “That’s why he worked to change the law to allow this money to be sent back to pay down America’s $31 trillion debt so governors and mayors could responsibly return unused taxpayer money.”
— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis will hold a press conference in Milton.
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THE BIG ASK — DeSantis builds conservative resume with new $114B-plus budget, by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Ahead of his likely 2024 presidential bid, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a nearly $115 billion budget that funds some of his most politically divisive policies — including millions of dollars for election police and more state funds to transport migrants from the southern border to blue strongholds. DeSantis’ budget, which he released Wednesday, also requests $15 million for New College, the small public liberal arts college that the governor is trying to transform into a conservative learning institution.
On the scene— Before the Wednesday press conference began, an administration staffer told state workers at the event to applaud and be “high energy.” Moments later, they cheered and clapped loudly when DeSantis entered the Florida Cabinet room, where he announced the budget plan. The workers broke out into applause three times during DeSantis’ presentation.
BREAKING IT DOWN — DeSantis boosts coastal resiliency and water programs but not land acquisition, by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed 2023-24 state budget includes spending boosts for coastal resiliency and water programs but spending on land acquisition remains at $100 million — earning criticism from some environmentalists. DeSantis said his $114.8 billion budget proposal also provides $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality programs, including $200 million for replacing septic tanks with sewer system hookups.
— DeSantis proposes K-12 budget nearing $26B, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury
— DeSantis budget seeks to rein in charity care spending, by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian
ANOTHER ITEM WORTH NOTING— DeSantis rolled out a unconventional tax cut package that could create an interesting conundrum down the road if enacted.
The governor came out with a roughly $1.5 billion tax cut package that included a familiar array of sales tax holidays (two back-to-school holidays instead of one) but it also included a year-long removal of sales taxes on every day household items such as soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent and toilet paper. Taxes would also be waived for a full year on children’s toys and equipment such as bikes and roller skates.
A DeSantis administration aide explained that the thinking behind the year-long tax cut package is that this would provide a substantial savings to Floridians who have been hit by inflation, which in of itself has also created a surge in tax collections a state that relies heavily on sales taxes.
But a decision was made — again because of a bit of uncertainty in the future — to not make this a permanent tax cut. If state legislators, however, go along with this idea they would have to readdress it in 2024 and agree to keep it going … or accept the cost of all these household items going back up right before the next election.
— “DeSantis proposes nearly $115 billion state budget, a record,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower and Romy Ellenbogen
— “DeSantis proposes $115B budget with $1.5B in tax breaks,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jeffrey Schweers
— “DeSantis’ $115B budget comes with pay raise for Florida workers, tax holiday on household items,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s James Call
— “Gov. DeSantis seeks to ‘support costs’ for Florida Kidcare families harmed by Hurricane Ian,” by Florida Politics’ Christine Jordan Sexton
— “Proposed budget includes $1B in funding to boost teacher pay,” by Florida Politics’ Anne Geggis
TURN THEM OVER — “Judge orders Florida health agency to hand over documents on gender-affirming care,” by The Hill’s Brooke Migdon: “A Florida judge has ordered the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to produce documents related to its determination that gender-affirming health care cannot be covered under Medicaid because treatments are ‘experimental and investigational.’ Attorneys for the AHCA — the agency that controls most of the state’s Medicaid program — will have until Feb. 14 to hand over documents it has previously argued are protected under attorney-client privilege and work-product privilege.”
REVAMP — Newly released African American studies course side-steps DeSantis’ criticism, by POLITICO’s Bianca Quilantan and Andrew Atterbury: The College Board’s newly-released official framework for its Advanced Placement course on African American Studies appears to forgo several topics that caused Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to support rejecting it from Florida. The nonprofit that oversees the Advanced Placement program unveiled its new course framework Wednesday to coincide with the first day of Black History Month.
Reaction — The nonprofit on Wednesday reiterated that no state nor district had seen the new framework before its unveiling and denied that any feedback from state officials was taken into consideration. Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said “I call bullshit — you are merely a puppet of Ron DeSantis” in a tweet directed at College Board CEO David Coleman that included a photo of a New York Times story about the final framework.
And there’s more — The pushback comes as Democrats and some groups criticize the revisions by the College Board, claiming the nonprofit caved to conservatives by removing aspects of the course tied to Black Lives Matter, Black feminism and queer studies. But the organization maintains that the topics under scrutiny were secondary or derivative sources included in the pilot phase of the course and would never be included in its official framework. “The fact of the matter is that this landmark course has been shaped over years by the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence,” College Board officials wrote Wednesday in response to media coverage of the course.
— “After calling it ‘trash,’ Florida commissioner pushes DeSantis to craft true African American curriculum,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters
PUSHBACK — “Tampa Bay leaders challenge DeSantis’ education policy at Black History Month challenge,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Cohen: “Being ‘woke’ was a theme for [Terri Lipsey] Scott, the executive director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, as she and other community leaders spoke Wednesday, the first day of Black History Month, at a flag-raising ceremony. They targeted Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial Individual Freedom Act, also known as Florida’s Stop Woke act, and decisions to ban books in public schools, such as the Pinellas County school district banning Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” from its high schools last week.”
— “Miami Black Affairs board vows to fight DeSantis. One member: ‘Our governor is racist,’” by Miami Herald’s Douglas Hanks
HITTING THE ROAD— DeSantis — who has a book scheduled to come out later this month — is going to be in a lot of places outside of Florida in the near future. The Texas Tribune reported he will be appearing at Reagan Day dinners scheduled for March 3 and March 4 in Houston and Dallas by county Republican parties. Meanwhile, the Orange County Republican Party in California is advertising that DeSantis will do an evening event with the party on March 5.
— “DeSantis says bill is being written for state takeover of Disney’s Reedy Creek,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Steven Lemongello
THE NEW MATH— “The cold calculus behind the shrinking GOP presidential field,” by POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin: However, it’s not only [former President Donald] Trump who’s causing the Great Deep Freeze of 2023. “They don’t have a Trump problem, they have a DeSantis problem,” explains Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist, of the potential field. “It’s going to be hard fighting for the other 60 to 70 percent of the vote [not going to Trump] when another guy could get 90 percent of it.” Gov. Ron DeSantis has, thanks to Covid and his ubiquity on right-wing media, become a “national conservative celebrity,” said Jennings, and the other would-be contenders are not likely to claim that status “by giving a bunch of speeches.”
STILL ON SIDELINES — “Eager to challenge Trump, Republicans aren’t so eager to be the first,” by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Michael C. Bender and Reid J. Epstein: “Contenders have so far been unwilling to officially jump into the race, wary of becoming a sacrificial lamb on Mr. Trump’s altar of devastating nicknames and eternal fury. Some are waiting to see if prosecutors in Georgia or New York will do the heavy lifting for them and charge Mr. Trump with crimes related to his election meddling after the 2020 contest or hush-money payments to a porn star during the 2016 campaign. And the sitting governors weighing a 2024 campaign, including Ron DeSantis of Florida, are vying to score legislative victories they can use to introduce themselves to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.”
— “Former city commissioner, state Rep. Michael Grieco is running for Miami Beach mayor,” by Miami Herald’s Aaron Leibowitz
— “Judge considering whether to dismiss Orange County man’s voter fraud case,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Cristóbal Reyes
— “Jim Boyd not interested in Congress, will pursue leadership in Florida Senate,” by Florida Politics’ Jacob Ogles
FALLOUT? — “Mike Lee, Rick Scott lose key committee seats; Scott blames McConnell,” by Fox News’ Digital’s Houston Keene: “Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rick Scott of Florida were removed from the Senate Commerce Committee, Fox News Digital has learned. Multiple Senate sources, including Scott’s office, confirmed to Fox News Digital that Scott and Lee were taken off the panel as the Senate restructures around its one-seat Democrat majority. Scott told Fox News Digital he blames Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for the removal.”
— “As Republicans begin probing COVID spending, Moskowitz highlights waste in federal pandemic efforts – under Trump,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man
RESPONSE — “After Sun Sentinel investigation, Florida’s Democrats in Congress call on state leaders to protect children from sex trafficking,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Brittany Wallman: “Florida’s eight Democratic members of Congress called on Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislative leaders Wednesday to reform state laws to protect children from sex trafficking, citing a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation, Innocence Sold, published late last year.”
RIVER OF GRASS— “Everglades progress report: Scientists point to need for water storage, climate planning,” by Fort Myers News-Press’ Amy Bennett Williams: “The biggest environmental restoration project in thehistory of the planet just got a report card. All in all, things are on track. No failing grades, but no raves either. There are plenty ‘needs to try harder’ comments as well. As fishing guide-turned-nonprofit advocate Daniel Andrews of Captains for Clean Water puts it: ‘It’s working but we have a long road ahead.’”
— “SpaceX Falcon makes 200th successful flight with overnight launch from KSC,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Richard Tribou
— “City Council to investigate whether LeAnna Cumber ‘deceived or misled’ regarding JEA sale,” by Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein
— “Antisemitic Kanye ‘Ye’ West remarks found written around University of Florida campus,” by Gainesville Sun
— “Pinellas school district faces pushback over its ban of ‘The Bluest Eye,’” by Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey S. Solochek
— “Bethune-Cookman pledges $10 million in campus improvements, gives update on coaching search,” by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Mark Harper and Chris Vinel
— “Mom sues Fla. schools, claiming district banned her over OnlyFans post,” by Washington Post’s Kyle Melnick: “[Victoria] Triece never made it to her son’s classroom, according to a lawsuit. The principal informed her that the Florida school district’s board ruled she could no longer engage with children on school grounds, the suit claims. The reason, Triece said, was that she posted nude photos of herself on the social media platform OnlyFans. Last week, Triece sued Orlando’s Orange County Public Schools in Florida’s circuit court, seeking the right to reengage in volunteer work for her two sons’ school events. ‘It wasn’t my job, but I took it very seriously,’ Triece, 31, told The Washington Post.
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