State wage hike with veto on food bank expansion


Local lawmakers, lobbyists and labor leaders said the $109 billion state budget Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law on Thursday is a mixed success for Tallahassee and Leon County.

The celebration of a historic 5.3% wage increase for state employees and a new $15 minimum wage for state employees was partly eclipsed Friday morning by the $1 million vetoes earmarked for the second Big Bend crop and a $50,000 appropriation for the Leon Works exhibit and junior apprenticeship program.

After:What was cut from Florida’s budget? Search Governor DeSantis Veto List

“It’s a bit overwhelming. The two things that get vetoes are food and jobs,” said Jeff Sharkey of the Capitol Alliance Group, Leon County lobbyist at the state capitol. “There really aren’t any bigger issues than food and jobs, so that’s disappointing.”

Although the longtime lobbyist was quick to add that the pay rise “is huge” for the region.

The Leon Works Expo connects young people to job opportunities. It also receives funding from Tallahassee and Leon Schools.

Representative Ramon Alexander, Senator Loranne Ausley, Representative Jason Shoaf and Representative Allison Tant make up the Leon County Legislative Delegation.

State Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, reviewed DeSantis’ 12-page veto list that totaled more than $3 billion, saw the two local projects that were scrapped, and said that “in the together Leon County has done well.”

Tant also found Second Harvest’s veto disappointing.

The food bank serves 17 North Florida counties and planned to use the money to buy delivery vans and refrigeration equipment.

“Feeding America is looking to expand Second Harvest’s service area with mobile pantries in food desert neighborhoods,” said Tant, who submitted the project application.

The food organization’s program was among a list of projects for what are considered “financially constrained” counties. State Senator Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, pointed out a number of these items did not pass DeSantis budget exam.

More than half a dozen local projects, however, have been approved with the state employee pay raise, so Ausley said overall, “It’s a great budget for northern Florida.”

Learn more about DeSantis’ budget:DeSantis’ budget includes a raise for state employees and a new emergency operations center

Learn more about the state minimum wage:Florida lawmakers consider banning cities and counties from setting local minimum wages

Ausley represents more than 19,000 state employees in Leon and Gadsden counties. The 5.3% wage increase and $15 minimum wage effective July 1 will increase the region’s payroll by at least an additional $40 million per year.

That money is in addition to another $12 million in local funding requests, as well as $80 million for the construction of a new state emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

“There are funds for water projects in Leon and Gadsden,” Ausley said. “And funding for streetlights in Midway, a police station in Chattahoochee, and a maternal health program in Havana.”

Sharkey said Leon’s delegation secured money for the county’s top priority, $400,000 to improve grading around Fred George Sink and capture debris to protect Wakulla Springs.

But he, along with Ausley and Tant, said the jackpot was the pay rise for state employees. Lawmakers earmarked an additional $1 billion for salaries and increased pay for state employees, first responders, corrections officers and teachers.

Florida has the smallest and cheapest state labor per 1,000 people among the states.

Bringing home the bacon:What Leon’s legislative delegation included in the 2022-23 state budget

Agenda for the 2022 session of Leon legislators: Work, New Jobs, Help for North Florida Counties

Piles of money

According to Department of Management Services, the average salary for career services employees is $37,668, while the statewide average is $51,000.

AFSCME, the union representing workers in the state, said it “appreciates” that the state recognizes there have been “years of undervaluation” of workers.

“Our members deserve annual raises like this so that state employment pays decent wages and continues to be a sustainable career option for professionals,” said Vicki Hall, AFSCME president of Florida. “Too many workers are leaving for more rewarding jobs elsewhere and the state is unable to maintain adequate staffing levels.”

Local projects financed in the 2022-2023 state budget:

Tallahassee Lighthouse Venture Mentorship Program: $250,000

Nonprofit Omega Lamplighters’ mentorship program works with boys in grades 4 through 12 to reduce gang-related activity. He asked for money to buy laptops and tablets, literacy materials and to pay for workshops and college visits.

Leon County Sheriff’s Office Behavioral Health Program: $250,000

The LCSO’s Behavioral Health and Workplace Wellness Program applied for the grant to develop a mental health resilience initiative to help small partner agencies in surrounding counties.

Panhandle Holocaust Education: $300,000

To fund an outreach coordinator and assistant to conduct training workshops for teachers of begging, mandated by law to teach Holocaust education, and to expand annual education week programs on the Holocaust.

Fred George Wetland Project: $400,000

The project was Leon County’s main request for the session. The money will be used to regrade a five-acre wetland to prevent debris from flowing down Fred George Sink to Wakulla Springs. The project will restore wildlife habitat, rehydrate wetlands, and improve discharge to the Florida Aquifer and directly benefit Wakulla Springs.

Tallahassee TEMPO Workforce Training Program: $500,000

A Tallahassee initiative that provides scholarships to earn GEDs, high school diplomas, and to attend college or technical and vocational schools.

AMIkids prevention program: $750,000

AMIkids provides youth in Gadsden County with mental health, addictions, mentorship and job training services through a juvenile diversion program.

Gadsden County Emergency Operations Center: $10 million

The EOC and Gadsden Sheriff’s office is currently housed in a 30-year-old building that does not meet hurricane building codes and lacks the space to house all the agencies needed in an emergency.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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