Coronavirus may complicate Florida’s 2021 budget

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As the Florida legislative session winds down and cases of COVID-19 ramp up in the state, lawmakers have included emergency funding in the upcoming budget for the Department of Health’s response to cases of the new coronavirus.

Some additional budgetary actions may come this week as lawmakers try to address other problems that could affect future state funding, such as the volatile stock market, according to House Speaker Jose Oliva.

“It is critical that we proactively coordinate all state resources to mitigate the threat and contain COVID-19,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This year’s session is supposed to end Friday, but continuing budget negotiations may send it into overtime, according to lawmakers who spent last weekend in conferences working out differences between the House’s $91.4 billion proposal and the Senate’s $92.8 billion spending plan.

They did reach agreement on some items, including $500 million to provide public school teachers with a minimum salary of $47,500, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis; funding to give state employees 3% raises; and another year of $50 million to fund Visit Florida, the state-operated tourism agency.

Another priority issue solved was an agreement to use $370 million in a dedicated trust fund to finance affordable housing. Lawmakers each year typically sweep most or all of the money into the general fund to spend on other things.

DeSantis on Saturday had requested $25 million to coordinate the state’s response to COVID-19, and lawmakers obliged by approving the request.

“It is critical that we proactively coordinate all state resources to mitigate the threat and contain COVID-19,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I urge all Floridians to take necessary precautions and follow hygiene guidelines issued by the Surgeon General and Florida Department of Health.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first two Florida cases of COVID-19, in Manatee and Hillsborough countie, on March 1. Nine days later, the Florida Department of Health reported on Monday there were 18 positive cases, two deaths, 140 negative test results and that 115 people were awaiting test results.

After the S&P 500 plunged 7% and required a 15-minute halt in trading at the opening on Monday, House Speaker Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, advised colleagues that some portions of the budget may be reevaluated, according to the Miami Herald.

“We may be facing a very real challenge here,” Oliva said. “The coronavirus, while it has had a rather minute effect on us, the panic surrounding it is having a real effect.”

Oliva said he will consult with other legislative leaders to discuss what actions can be taken to further insulate the state from the economic impact of the virus’s outbreak, although he gave no details about what might be considered, the Herald reported.

Leaders need to “make sure that before we put this budget in the books, we are doing everything we can to ensure that should a recession come on, we are leaving future legislatures with the power to try to overcome it,” he said.

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