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DeSantis Says COVID-19 Will 'Loom' Over 2021 Session

Gov DeSantis
News Service of Florida
The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis said mapping out budget priorities for next fiscal year will depend on factors such as the use of federal stimulus money and the condition of the state’s economic recovery.";

Gov. Ron DeSantis, while expressing hope that the coronavirus crisis could ease across Southern states in September, said on morning radio shows Monday that the pandemic will “loom” over every budget and policy debate during the 2021 legislative session.

DeSantis said mapping out budget priorities for next fiscal year will depend on factors such as the use of federal stimulus money and the condition of the state’s economic recovery.

“We are using intelligently the CARES Act (federal stimulus) money in a way that I think will keep us whole,” DeSantis said during an appearance on the Preston Scott show on WFLA radio in Tallahassee. “So, as we go into the legislative session, from a budget perspective, I think we’ll probably be OK for this fiscal year. I think the question is, is how robust is the recovery from the coronavirus shutdown? And if it's robust, that gives us more options. If it's not, then we may have to make some more tough decisions.”

DeSantis added “the effects of this (are) going to loom, I think, over every budget and policy debate, you know, in the next session.”

The 2021 legislative session will start in March and will include drawing up a fiscal 2021-2022 state budget, which will take effect July 1.

The pandemic, which has caused massive economic damage, has led in recent months to shrinking tax revenues.

The Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research has reported general-revenue collections during April, May and June were $2.1 billion less than forecast, causing the state to finish the 2019-2020 fiscal year about $1.88 billion below projections.

DeSantis wasn’t asked Monday on either radio show or during an education event in Riverview about a plan by President Donald Trump to extend federal unemployment benefits. That plan, which would provide $400 a week in federal benefits to jobless people, would require states to provide 25 percent of the money.

Congressional leaders and the Trump administration have been in negotiations after the expiration of an earlier program that provided $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits on top of state benefits.

Florida, with an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent in June, has distributed just under $13.3 billion in state and federal benefits since March 15. The state has provided $2.8 billion of the money.

State Democrats have pushed for the Legislature to hold a special session this summer to address the economic impacts of the virus. But Republican leaders have rejected the idea, with lawmakers next expected to return to Tallahassee in November for an organization session after the general election.

In June, DeSantis vetoed $1 billion from the new 2020-2021 budget to try to beef up reserves as the state faced reduced tax revenues.

DeSantis during the past week has increased radio and television interviews as he has tried to deliver a message that conditions in the state are improving. He told Scott on Monday during the WFLA interview that hospitalizations and emergency-room visits linked to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have dropped.

The Florida Department of Health on Monday reported 4,155 additional COVID-19 cases in the state and 91 deaths of Florida residents, bringing the death toll of residents to 8,277.

Along with saying conditions are improving in the state, DeSantis on Monday also continued calling for the return of fall sports, particularly ACC and SEC college football, and an eventual return of crowds, even if on a limited basis.

“The fact that the Sun Belt is going through this means that as we get into September, you know, I think you'll see improvements across the entire region, not just in Florida,” DeSantis told Clay Travis of Fox Sports Radio.

DeSantis pointed to NASCAR, which has allowed limited crowds into Talladega Superspeedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.

“We'll see as the situation develops, but that would really just add positive spin if you're able to get into that situation,” DeSantis said. “We did it with NASCAR effectively. It was a reduced crowd. There's no doubt about it. But I would say that that was better than nothing.”

Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.