Florida’s revenue rises in August; still lags 2019

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Florida revenue collections for the state general fund rose to the plus side in August compared to estimates that had been lowered to account for impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"While overall collections for August moved further into positive territory, posting a notable gain of $177.3 million against the new estimate for the month, they would have been down by $83.1 million against the estimate adopted [in January] prior to the pandemic," the state economists said in the August revenue report.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order lifting most coronavirus-related business capacity restrictions on Friday.

Given the nature of the fiscal shock caused by the pandemic, comparisons to the same month in the prior year produce the most meaningful metrics, said the report released by the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research Friday.

Year-over-year collections in August were down 4.6% compared with 2019, and reflect new projections of the revenue estimating conference.

The REC met Aug. 14, and revised total projected revenue supporting the state budget downward by $2 billion in fiscal 2022, and by $1 billion in 2023.

After sales tax collections plummeted by almost $1.8 billion between April and July, the category turned positive against the new estimate, posting a gain of $153.8 million in the August report.

"This reflected activity that largely occurred in July, essentially all of which benefited from the continued reopening of the state’s economy and some consumers’ ability to draw down atypically large savings that built up during the pandemic," the report said.

Sales tax receipts in various categories came in over the new estimates, but none were higher than collections in August 2019.

Tourism and hospitality-related industries accounted for the biggest loss in sales taxes with collections dropping 41%.

"The loss is not solely attributable to the reduction in the number of out-of-state tourists, but also from the reduction of sales to Florida residents at restaurants, local attractions and other leisure activities," Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a memo to his chamber.

"It is imperative, for the survival of these businesses and the jobs they create, that we continue to work toward the safe return and recovery of the tourism industry, including encouraging the safe enjoyment of these establishments by Floridians," he added.

In an effort to rev up the Sunshine State’s economy further, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday issued an executive order lifting nearly all business capacity restrictions in all 67 counties.

DeSantis, a Republican whose election in 2018 benefited from President Trump's endorsement, said restaurants can't be limited by a local order to less than 50% of indoor capacity unless the economic impact is quantified and an explanation justifies the move to protect public health.

Some studies have shown that despite social distancing measures and mask requirements, some people caught the virus that causes COVID-19 after eating inside restaurants.

DeSantis' order on Friday also pre-empted the right of cities and counties to impose fines and penalties against individuals for violations of COVID-19 orders, such as those requiring face coverings in public.

DeSantis has also said that he will propose a “bill of rights” for college students at schools where rules prohibiting parties and large social gatherings have been instituted due to surges in COVID-19 infections.

Florida State University, for example, has said that students violating rules meant to curb infections can be suspended for a semester.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported a total of 701,302 positive cases of COVID-19, and 14,207 deaths from the virus.

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State budgets State tax revenues Coronavirus Ron DeSantis State of Florida Florida