DeSantis’ transports have infuriated Democrats and civil rights groups, who have accused the governor of using asylum seekers for a political stunt. Several Democrats have urged the Justice Department to investigate the Republican governor, and a Texas sheriff has also opened an investigation into him over the thefts.
Pizzo argues in his lawsuit that the $12 million the Republican-led Legislature set aside for the resettlement program violates state budget laws, including a state constitutional requirement according to which legislators are not expected to pass substantive policies in the annual spending bill.
Florida has so far spent at least $1.56 million with the supplier that helped organize the first flights. The state paid the carrier, Vertol Systems Company, Inc., $615,000 to fly the migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and another $950,000 for what is believed to be a future flight.
But Pizzo’s lawsuit also claims that state officials — including those at the Department of Transportation — failed to follow the guidelines for the relocation program as set out by the Florida legislature in budget parlance, including understood that the money was spent on food, hotel rooms and even haircuts for the Texas migrants who were eventually sent to Martha’s Vineyard.
He also says the state is violating a new state immigration law that was passed this year by state lawmakers at DeSantis’ request because the migrants were flown in from Texas and not Florida. The flight that carried the migrants made a brief stopover in Florida before continuing to Martha’s Vineyard.
“The governor asked lawmakers to bring and pass bills that were crafted on his agenda and which he signed into law,” Pizzo said in an interview. “And yet he still cannot comply with the requirements and restrictions.”
The lawsuit is not unexpected, as Pizzo and other Democrats in the Legislature have debated for days whether the spending followed the one-paragraph provision included in the new state budget that went into effect. July 1.
The money for the relocation program came from interest income from the $5.8 billion that Congress sent to the state as part of the US bailout. State lawmakers passed the budget overwhelmingly, with only a handful of lawmakers voting no.
Pizzo’s lawsuit was filed against DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis as well as Department of Transportation and DOT Secretary Jared Perdue. The CFO of Florida is an elected position.
“Senator Pizzo never misses a chance for his 15 minutes of fame and challenges an action on a credit he voted for,” said DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske.
Frank Collins, a spokesperson for Patronis, noted that Democratic senators, including Pizzo and Democratic Senate Leader Lauren Book, voted for the budget which included the $12 million appropriation. He also pointed out that the lawsuit was brought by an attorney who worked for Democrats.
“Now that the law they voted for is being implemented and shedding light on the border crisis, Pizzo and Book have gone to their same old playbook and hired a Democratic lawyer to take on the executive branch for having complied with the law,” he said in a statement. “We are receiving the case and are currently exploring options for sanction and/or counter-suit action.”
DeSantis’ decision to seek millions to relocate those entering the country illegally was prompted by nearly 80 federally sponsored flights to Florida last year. DeSantis first told reporters in November that he was considering a plan to bus migrants to Delaware, President Joe Biden’s home state.
DeSantis said Thursday he was “proud” of the attention his transport to Martha’s Vineyard had garnered and added that it forced people to focus on Biden’s border policies. Multiple media outlets reported this week that the United States has made more than 2 million immigrant arrests along the southern border in the past 11 months.
“It wasn’t a concern two weeks ago,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Miami. “Now he seems to be front and center.”