Florida disasters command huge share of state spending
Even the tax-break package the Republican majority traditionally touts has been downsized to make money available for environmental work across the state and rebuild the devastated eastern Panhandle.
TALLAHASSEE — Disasters which rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan, with Hurricane Michael recovery and work to ease toxic water outbreaks commanding a huge share of the $90-billion budget.
As a result, money for schools is tight. Some hospitals are facing cuts.
And even the tax-break package the Republican majority traditionally touts has been downsized to make money available for environmental work across the state and rebuild the devastated eastern Panhandle.
But with some $2.5 billion certain to be committed to last year’s twin disasters, some still wonder, is it enough?
“I think truth be told, when you look at some of our infrastructure, wastewater and storm-water problems — as long as we have discharges of raw sewage in the tens of thousands of gallons — we have not fully addressed the problem,” said Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.
“It’s going to be a multiyear, very expensive project,” he added.
Indeed, data analyzed by GateHouse Media-Florida shows state waterways have been fouled by some 980 million gallons of wastewater over the past decade, with sewage spills occurring at the rate of six per day.
Blue-green algae blooms which choked waters off Palm Beach, the Treasure Coast and in Lake Okeechobee last summer feed off nutrients in the wastewater, which also likely adds to the spread of red tide that fouled the state’s Gulf Coast at the same time.
The House and Senate have responded to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ demand for $625 million this year for water improvement projects by topping the mark, with both sides proposing some $660 million for water quality and Everglades restoration.
While it’s a big bite out of this year’s budget, DeSantis views it as an initial installment – saying he wants a total $2.5 billion spent over the next four years, a $1 billion boost from what had been spent since 2015.
Still, Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, said voters in her district expect more from the Legislature.
Gulf residents endured months of a red tide bloom that at one point stretched from St. Petersburg to Key West, harming waters going out 20 miles offshore.
Countless fish died from the foul-smelling bloom, with sea spray creating respiratory problems for people onshore.
“Until we look at actual environmental protections, we’re not going to solve the problem,” Good said.
“We have to get to the source of the problem, which is nutrients, runoff, sewer and septic systems and really deal with these in a thoughtful way. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to deal with these water quality issues,” she added.
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