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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a $116.5 billion state budget on Thursday, sparing the veto pen for projects that will benefit Key Biscayne’s beaches, flooded streets and special needs residents – as well its library patrons..

DeSantis did veto nearly $510 million from the budget sent to him by the Florida Legislature – which in a session marked by culture war issues was approved by both Democrats and Republicans.

Village Manager Steve Williamson said that it was “great news” DeSantis’s veto pen spared Key Biscayne. 

“We did well – very well,” he said. 

Approved in the budget was $450,000 direct funding for beach renourishment, $100,000 to provide services on the island to special needs residents, $450,000 for flood mitigation by replacing 100 catch basins and reslope 1.5 miles of surface roads and $500,000 for Miami-Dade County to move forward with the new Key Biscayne library branch.

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The beach renourishment will be bolstered by an additional $950,000 to the Florida Department of Environment Projection Beach Management Funding Assistance Program, Williamson said.

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Rep. Vicki Lopez, the Republican from District 113 that encompasses Key Biscayne, said she thought the governor would back the beach renourishment and flood mitigation.

“I was more worried about my small $100,000 for our special needs population, to be honest with you,” Lopez said. “You got to understand the barrier island type of environment and that these people are already special needs, for goodness sakes. Why can’t we bring services to them?”

Williamson said he was “super excited” about the special needs program.

“I don’t think we need a person –  we need to make the programs more compliant,” Williamson said. He added that the Village is learning a lot from the University of Miami on how to augment existing programs.

Lopez said DeSantis nixed seven of her projects, but she tried to take it in stride. 

 “It was only $2.6 million. So I’m coming home with approximately $17 million – which is huge” for a freshman lawmaker, she said. 

She attributed  her success to being a self-described “center-right” candidate who  flipped the seat to the GOP in November 2022. 

“That requires being able to bring home the bacon,” said Lopez, who added she was grateful to DeSantis.

When it comes to beaches – clearly Key Biscayne and Virginia Key’s defining feature – it has been an act of Sissphys to keep the sand replenished. The new sand project will try to fix significant erosion from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole last year. 

A 2021 project aimed to undo the damage of Hurricane Irma four years earlier and natural erosion by bringing in 31,000 cubic yards – nearly one third of it self-funded by the VIllage. 

Williamson said the approved funds will pay for the VIllage moving ahead on three zones for immediate flood control while it plans the larger $250 million set of projects set for the next 15 years.  

DeSantis’ veto pen had far less ink this year than last when he struck out $3.1 billion in spending. He signed the budget in Fort Pierce.

The projects hit the hardest were $100 million for rural land protection, $30.8 million to acquire the Kirkland Ranch for water and conservation purposes and $20 million to expand nursing and related programs at the University of South Florida.

The governor’s office said the budget includes $2.7 billion in a tax relief package to help families combat inflation. There will also be a record $1.6 billion investment in Everglades restoration and water quality projects. 

“These record investments, despite record inflationary levels at the hands of the federal government, are a testament to the strength of Florida’s economy,” DeSantis said in his memo approving the budget.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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