State taxpayer money for Hurricane Michael relief in Florida's hard-hit Panhandle would top $1.8 billion under a budget plan outlined Thursday by Senate Republican leaders.
Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton said an additional $219.9 million is included in the budget blueprint that will be considered in coming weeks. Galvano said about $1.6 billion in state money has already been allocated or spent on hurricane aid, in addition to millions more in federal assistance.
"This whole budget is tight. We had to really prioritize. You know, what is a true value and what is not," Galvano told reporters.
Michael came ashore Oct. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of about 155 mph (250 kph), nearly destroying the town of Mexico Beach and causing widespread damage across the region. Authorities say 43 people died in Florida as a result of the storm.
"I believe we have put forward a solid plan at the state level to ensure long-term sustained recovery for Florida's Panhandle," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, whose panel will consider the overall estimated $90 billion budget plan next week.
"I am confident this budget is a step towards healing the wounds that this horrific storm left on the resilient people of north Florida," added Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.
It wasn't immediately clear Thursday if the House would approve similar amounts for hurricane recovery in its budget proposal. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has outlined a $91.3 billion overall budget that includes about $323.6 million in state funding for Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma recovery.
In the Senate Hurricane Michael plan, $100 million would to go for affordable housing. Other priorities include money for hospitals, police and fire facilities; courthouses, public buildings and infrastructure such as sewage systems and roads; and to assist local school systems whose student enrollments have fallen since the hurricane roared through.
"Our schools, neighborhoods, churches, businesses and families all felt the impact. Five months later, we are still dealing with monumental challenges," said Republican Sen. George Gainer of Panama City. "This budget will help rebuild and heal our communities."
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