TALLAHASSEE - The recently revived Florida State Guard would more than triple in size and add aviation and maritime equipment, with funding going from $10 million to more than $95 million, under Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposed budget.
DeSantis last year pushed to reactivate the volunteer state guard to assist the Florida National Guard during emergencies. The state guard was set up during World War II to replace Florida National Guard members who were deployed abroad. It went inactive in 1947 but remained in state law.
Chris Spencer, DeSantis' director of policy and budget, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that an expanded state guard is needed to help an overtaxed Florida National Guard.
"Our national guardsmen have a much longer, much more frequent schedule of activations because of our emergencies than other states that have more national guardsmen," Spencer said while giving a budget overview, "That's a big burden on the families of national guardsmen and it's a big burden on the national guardsmen themselves. It's a factor in the challenges that we're having in recruiting national guardsmen in Florida."
With approximately 12,000 Florida soldiers and airmen, Spencer added some members of the National Guard are deployed in non-emergencies, with about 400 working in state prisons.
Meanwhile, the DeSantis administration is proposing to increase the size of the state guard from 400 to 1,500 members. Spencer said the goal is to have the state guard fully operational by the July 1 start of the upcoming fiscal year.
Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who questioned Spencer on the state guard's proposed funding, said after the meeting he would like more information on the plans.
"I'm just interested to know, is there something we don't know about, as regular people, that we're missing, that we need to add from 400 to 1,500 (with the) state guard," Powell said. "There is a lot of conversation centered on what is happening in Washington, D.C. Is Florida, are we a part of the nation?"
The budget for the current fiscal year included $10 million to reactivate the state guard and cover the costs of six positions.
As part of an overall $114.8 billion budget he proposed last week for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, DeSantis is asking lawmakers for $1.3 million to expand the salaried positions to 10; $50 million for aviation equipment; $3 million for maritime equipment; $22 million for storage facilities; and $19 million for training and protective equipment.
Last June, DeSantis said more than 1,200 people applied for the guard's 400 positions.
As part of recruitment efforts for the Florida National Guard, DeSantis has proposed $1,000 bonuses for new recruits and guardsmen who renew contracts.
Spencer said similar recruitment bonus incentives are not on the table for the state guard.
"If we don't hit our 400 and if we think it's going to be a challenge to hit our 1,500, we may come back and ask for support from the Legislature for an incentive plan next year," Spencer said. "But as of right now, we feel pretty strong there's going to be a lot of interest in joining, and hitting that number should not be a challenge."
for more features.