With time running out, Florida's governor still hasn't received the state budget

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With about two weeks before the fiscal 2021 year begins, Florida lawmakers still haven't sent the budget or proposed borrowing amounts for the upcoming year to the governor.

The $93.2 billion budget passed by the GOP-led Legislature on March 19 remains unrevised despite the fact that revenues supporting it have declined by at least 29.4%, or $878.1 million, from estimates predicted by the state's economists in January.

With two weeks before the new fiscal year starts, Gov. Ron DeSantis still hasn't received the 2021 budget from the Legislature.

The revenue loss reflects collections only through March, before stay-at-home orders were implemented, and includes delays in corporate income tax payments and other filing fees. However, most of the loss was due to $598.2 million in lower state sales tax collections, which accounts for 79% of revenues that support the state budget. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has line-item veto authority over the budget. However, he has not called a special legislative session to adjust the spending plan before it reaches his desk, or to address a $1 billion shortfall, so far, in projected Medicaid costs due to a surge in unemployment.

The budget also includes some of the lowest levels of new bonding approved in recent years, at just $245 million, to finance mental health facilities for the state's corrections department, purchase right of way for road projects, and to issue Garvees, or grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, for transportation projects that qualify for federal funding.

DeSantis had recommended $1.24 billion in bond financing for transportation projects in fiscal 2021. He approved $671.2 million mostly for road projects in the 2020 spending plan.

Once DeSantis receives the budget and borrowing plan, he'll have 15 days to act on it.

The preliminary official statement for the Florida Board of Education's $112.3 million refunding, that sold June 10, details how the state plans to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 on its economy and the budget.

About $726 million of debt approved in previous years remains unissued.

"It is expected that legislative leadership or the governor will call a special legislative session in the next fiscal year to make amendments to the proposed 2020-21 budget in light of the fiscal impacts of COVID-19 after consideration of revenues collected in the next few months, moneys received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and any additional federal funding that may be forthcoming," the disclosure said.

"The economic, financial and budgetary impacts on the state and its economy from the measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19 are expected to be significant," it added.

The disclosure also says actions taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 are expected to have a "material adverse impact on futures state revenue collections," although the magnitude can't be estimated with reasonable certainty at this time.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit organization that oversees government spending, is calling for DeSantis to strike $136.3 million from the budget, an amount that represents funds for 180 projects sought by lawmakers that TaxWatch says either didn't get proper vetting or that don't "provide a significant positive return for taxpayers."

The group also complained the number of projects filed each year continues to rise along with the use of supplemental appropriations, which are funds for projects approved at the last minute of session with no discussion.

The budget process earlier this year included 829 members' projects, a record number, in the final general appropriations act, along with supplemental appropriations that contained 304 items, said Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch's president of research.

"Reining in this spending is a critical issue every year and now, as Florida faces an uncertain economic landscape due to the impacts of COVID-19, the need for strict scrutiny by Gov. DeSantis is even more important," Wenner said.

DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for non-essential activities for much of April, to stem the tide of rising coronavirus cases in hospitals, and began reopening the economy in phases in early May. The state is now seeing a spike in cases.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported that 77,326 people in Florida had been sickened by COVID-19, and 2,938 had died from the disease.

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