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Coronavirus Impact On Economy Has Lawmakers Reevaluating Budget Priorities

Florida lawmakers are reexamining their budget as fears of Coronavirus begin to impact the state’s tourism-driven economy. The state’s top legislative leaders want to funnel more money into the state’s rainy day fund in case those worries dampen revenues. 

Issues previously assumed to be settled are now back in play.

At last tally, the state was planning to spend $600 million to increase teacher salaries. That was before Senate President Bill Galvano suggested the state may need to increase its cushion in case the economy droops because of the Coronavirus. That requires lawmakers to  juggle the budget to make the numbers work. 

“I think we have to take a look at everything,' said House Speaker Jose Oliva.  That’s one of the largest recurring expenditures that’s been proposed this year. I think it has to be looked at.”  

Those pay raises have been Governor Ron DeSantis’ top budget priority, and he recently suggested lawmakers look elsewhere for savings.

“That would not be the place that would make sense," DeSantis said when asked about the possibility of a smaller teacher pay package. I think we can do this. The…$25 million we’re asking, that’s important, that would really help Scott and his folks to respond. But at the end of the day, that’s not a huge part of a $91 billion budget. So, we can absolutely walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

The state is already planning to spend $25 million on its response to COVID-19. Scott, is Scott Rivkees, the state’s Surgeon General.

Also in play—reducing the amount of a planned tax cut package. That was a recommendation by Senate President Galvano, and Oliva agrees.

"It’s one of the areas, yes," he said.

Lawmakers were already assuming the 60-day legislative session would go into overtime. It’s slated to end Friday, but a late start to budget negotiations delayed the ending time. Now Oliva says lawmakers could remain in Tallahassee through next week.

“I would hope no later than Wednesday.  I don’t think it would be a great deal longer. We’re hoping to put together a package of a few hundred million dollars that we can put into reserves and still make sure that we do a lot of things we wanted to do. And there’s some things we’re committed to not touching, and So we have to do that work of where do we find those dollars? But we want to put together a good pot of money.” 

Also being eyed for reductions, the $100 million the chamber’s recently agreed to spend on the state’s land buying program, Florida Forever. Lawmakers are anticipating the state’s economy to slow as fears of COVID-19 depress travel and tourism, which forms the base of economic activity in the state.

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