TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference late last month in Fort Pierce, he announced his administration was giving the Treasure Coast city $2.7 million for infrastructure improvements and redevelopment.
He told the gaggle of reporters, local city officials, state legislators and a member of Congress gathered for the event that the money was coming from the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund.
What he didn’t say was that $100 million pumped into the fund had come through the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Fund interest loophole: Florida Gov. DeSantis bashes Biden while spending Washington bucks
Federal dollars have covered a host of Florida needs
In the last year, DeSantis has frequently attacked the Biden administration, regularly blaming its federal funding packages for driving higher costs and hurting Floridians at the gas pump and grocery store.
Yet he’s also used the same federal funds he derides to promote his own agenda in Florida. And what DeSantis never mentions is that the $109.9 billion state budget he signed in June is seeded with $3.5 billion in American Rescue Plan dollars.
Indeed, one of his signature give-backs to Floridians, a roughly 25-cents-a-gallon gas tax break, is paid for entirely with federal money. The $200 million break will span the month of October — the month before voters go to the polls Nov. 8 to decide whether DeSantis gets a second term.
DeSantis this week went to a Jacksonville fire station to hand out $1,000 bonus checks to firefighters and EMTs, part of a statewide bonus payout that also includes law enforcement officers.
DeSantis said the money will help with what he derided as “Bidenflation.” But he again failed to mention that money for the bonuses comes from Washington. Florida Professional Firefighters, the union representing 27,000 firefighters and EMTs, endorsed DeSantis in July, citing his support for the bonuses.
Federal dollars have covered a host of Florida needs, including construction and repairs at schools, colleges and universities, rural broadband expansion, environmental land purchases, cultural grants — even renovations at the state Capitol, where DeSantis’ has his office.
That same day he touted the money for Fort Pierce, DeSantis also announced Suwannee County would get $1.9 million to support business growth, even though that money, too comes from the ARPA-infused Job Growth Grant Fund.
During that announcement, DeSantis also spoke about the two $1,000 bonus payments to first responders, which are at least partially funded with federal aid.
On his campaign website, DeSantis mentions multiple federally-funded items without drawing attention to the source.
Among them is $400 million to expand broadband internet access in rural and underserved areas, made possible through American Rescue Plan funding. There’s also the $30 million for the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rural Infrastructure Fund, which is flush with the federal dollars.
DeSantis’ office says the governor deserves “every bit of credit” for state programs even if they are federally funded.
“Thanks to the responsible stewardship of Governor DeSantis, we currently sit on a record state surplus independent of federal COVID funds,” said Bryan Griffin, a spokesman for DeSantis, in an email. “Therefore, Governor DeSantis responsibly utilized these federal funds for programs that benefit Floridians directly — like the Job Growth Grant Funds.”
‘Running around and taking credit for it’
Florida Democrats have regularly called out DeSantis when he touts his plans without noting the federal funding.
“All [the federal funding] led to not just keeping the economy afloat, but really boosting the economy of Florida,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said. “And he is, of course, running around taking credit for it.”
Diaz called it shameless.
“He announces the funding and forgets to thank the president or, by the way, Congressman [Charlie] Crist or Congresswoman [Val] Demings, our congressional delegation, who got all this passed,” he said.
Multiple iterations of federal funding to address COVID-19 passed under both the Trump and Biden administration. The largest funding package under former President Trump came in late March 2020, during COVID-19’s early days. Called the CARES Act, it cost $2.2 trillion dollars, infusing billions into Florida’s coffers.
American Rescue Plan sent billions to Florida
The American Rescue Plan, under President Biden, passed Congress in spring 2021 with no Republican support. It cost nearly $2 trillion, and also sent billions of dollars to Florida.
Biden has passed non-COVID related spending bills, too. Notably, there was the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which DeSantis said the state didn’t get enough money from, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which DeSantis has attacked as a waste of taxpayer dollars that would do little to bring down inflation.
“The governor is touting this really large budget surplus and how we are flush with cash,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, incoming state House Democratic Leader. “In my caucus, we know that a lot of the financial resources that Florida has right now is due to the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress in DC.”
Ben Wilcox, research director and co-founder of nonpartisan government watchdog Integrity Florida, said Florida’s economy has remained strong through the pandemic largely due to COVID-19 relief money from the federal government.
“I just think it’s a little bit disingenuous on his part to be going around the state claiming credit for new projects that are going to help Florida’s economy but not recognizing that the source of the funding for those projects is the federal government,” he said.
USA Today Network-Florida government accountability reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected] Twitter: @DouglasSoule