Florida lawmakers adopted a fiscal year 2021 budget in mid-March as the COVID-19 emergency was emerging, planning to return in a special session to adjust the plan to dramatically changed circumstances fostered by the resulting economic shutdown.
The state since has learned it fell $878.1 million short of March’s anticipated revenues – largely from a cliff-fall in sales tax receipts – and likely will see nearly $900 million less in May than what state economists forecast.
Some analysts estimated the state will fall $8 billion to $10 billon short in funding its $93.2 billion budget, which goes into effect July 1, and the spending plan’s general fund needs to be slashed by $500 million to $1 billion.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday there likely will be no need for a special session because he will veto as much spending as it takes to balance the budget.
“There’s going to be a lot more vetoes. It’ll be a lot of red,” DeSantis told reporters. “It’s kind of the veto equivalent of the Red Wedding from ‘Game of Thrones.' ”
The spending plan includes DeSantis priorities such as $644 million for his four-year, $2.5 billion Everglades restoration initiative, $125 million for Florida Forever, full funding at $387 million for affordable housing and $500 million for teacher pay increases.
DeSantis said some of his priorities will be on the block.
“We want to obviously deliver as many of the priorities as we can, but it’s just a situation where I created a budget under certain assumptions and conditions,” he said. “The Legislature did a budget under certain assumptions and conditions, and even though the pandemic was here once we laid the budget on the desk, there was a radical change between that second week of March, in terms of the messaging coming out of places like Washington, where they said you could go on a cruise, you can still go to a campaign rally. And then it seemed like a week or 10 days later, shut everything down.”
The budget is among a raft of 49 bills the Legislature has forwarded to DeSantis since Monday. Among the 38 bills sent Tuesday is Senate Bill 404, which requires parental consent before a minor can receive an abortion.
The governor has 15 days to veto a bill or it goes into effect. Among the bills now on DeSantis’ desk:
• House Bill 1193: The Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act is the session’s most sweeping preemption of local regulatory authority and a primary component of DeSantis’ deregulation push to remove licensing barriers to various professions and trades.
Sponsored by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, and by Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, in the Senate, the new law would reduce or eliminate regulatory requirements imposed by 18 state boards that now license 439,821 Floridians working as barbers, Realtors, certified public accountants, engineers and auctioneers.
The rollbacks will save licensees an estimated $2.176 million the next three years in repealed fees and training expenses, according to the Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation.
• House Bill 641: The bill sets aside $400 million for starting teacher salaries and $100 million to raise pay for veteran teachers. DeSantis had pushed for a $600 million package to boost starting teacher pay to $47,500 annually.
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