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March 2022 Update from One Okaloosa EDC

By Nathan Sparks, CEcD
Executive Director of One Okaloosa EDC
Florida’s roughly 60 day state legislative session came to a close last week, with the House and Senate almost unanimously approving a record $112.1 billion state budget – thanks in part to $37 billion in federal money received as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a point of comparison, the proposed FY 2022-2023 budget is 10% more than the current budget and 20% above the pre-pandemic level.  (Of course, Governor DeSantis retains line item veto authority and the budget now heads to his desk for final consideration.)  
As usual, many of the priorities that were outlined by both the Governor and legislative leadership prior to the session translated to specific funding appropriations. From our perspective, some of the more noteworthy items include:
$268.1 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and $153.3 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program, including $100 million for a “Florida Hometown Hero Housing Program” offering down payment and closing cost assistance
$400 million for broadband expansion efforts to underserved areas of the state
A $1.7 billion increase for education – including $800 million for teacher pay raises
$10 million for a reactivated “Florida State Guard” – a unit that was initially established during WWII as backfill for deployed forces
A 5.38% across-the-board wage increase for state workers, along with specific pay increases for first responders, correctional officers and probation officers
A $20 million bonus program to recruit law enforcement officers
Full funding for Enterprise Florida, our primary state economic development partner
$50 million in non-recurring funds for VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism promotion organization (a five year extension of the organization’s sunset to 2028 was also approved)
$15 million for the Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program – a competitive grant program for schools and colleges who sponsor apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs
$50 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund – a key source of funding for public infrastructure and workforce development projects intended to spur economic development
A month-long state gas tax holiday in October – of note, Florida’s gas tax is roughly $0.25 per gallon and Governor DeSantis was seeking a five month-long suspension of these collections
With inflation on the rise, Florida lawmakers also established a $1 billion fund to counter the impact of escalating costs on the state budget. In other policy matters, COVID-19 liability protections once again took center stage. The current law shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits and was set to expire this year. However, lawmakers last month approved a bill that extends the protections through June 1, 2023. It has since been signed by the Governor. Speaking of Governor DeSantis, he chose Okaloosa County’s own Florosa Elementary School as the site for signing Senate Bill 1048, which serves to replace the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) with computer-based progress monitoring in English, Language Arts and Mathematics.

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