March 25, 2020

FLORIDA KEYS — A landmark allocation in Florida’s newly adopted budget commits $300 million toward Everglades and Florida Bay restoration, but the ongoing coronavirus threat could force revisions in several programs.

The overall $93.2 billion state budget passed March 19 on unanimous votes of the Florida House and Senate.

“Sustained funding at this level is essential to advancing and completing key restoration projects that protect our tourism-based economy and preserve Florida’s one-of-a-kind environment,” said Everglades Foundation chief executive Eric Eikenberg in a statement. “Continued investment in Everglades restoration is critical to maximizing benefits to communities across South Florida.”

In thanking Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, Eikenberg acknowledged the budget vote came “amid this uncharted territory and the uncertain times we are facing.”

While the budget includes $300 million to cover some coronavirus issues, Florida could take a significant hit if state revenues decline and outbreak costs increase. Reports indicate an emergency legislative session might be called to overhaul the budget.

Legislators approved around $690 million for Everglades restoration and other statewide water projects, a sum that topped DeSantis’ goal of $625 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Specific projects include including sending more fresh water into Everglades National Park beneath the new bridges along Tamiami Trail, and funding toward protecting water quality in areas around Lake Okeechobee.

Other budget allocations include $500 million to boost teacher pay. State employees could receive a 3% pay increase.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, is wrapping up her eight-year term limit in the Legislature. The natural resources subcommittee which she chaired “allocated $100 million to Florida Forever to protect our valuable natural resources, and I was able to get $10 million allocated for our beloved Keys Stewardship Act and over $5 million for local organizations and initiatives,” she wrote online.

At last week’s emergency meeting of the Islamorada Village Council, board attorney Roget Bryan said it was possible that state lawmakers may need to send “a massive amount of money” to fight the COVID-19 threat.

kwadlow@keysnews.com