Florida’s Billion-Dollar Budget Cut by Governor DeSantis Due to Coronavirus

Image by yanivmatza from Pixabay 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cut more than $1 billion from the state budget on Monday (June 29). The budget cut has brought the state budget to $92.2 billion. The state saw a historic surge in unemployment claims as Floridians began to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also set aside $6.3 billion in reserves to withstand expected shortfalls over the next fiscal year, which starts Wednesday. 

When lawmakers passed their version of the budget in March, they knew it could be drastically different by the time it took effect on July 1. Sales taxes have gone down since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. State revenues are $1.45 billion below their pre-coronavirus estimates, state economists announced Friday. Experts predict that Florida will have an $8 billion revenue shortfall.

DeSantis kept some of the biggest issues passed by lawmakers this session, including measures that had widespread bipartisan support:

▪ $500 million for teacher raises.

▪ A 3% pay raise for all state employees, including himself and the three members of the Cabinet.

▪ Giving corrections officers another $500 to $2,500 depending on their experience.

▪ $100 million to buy and preserve land around the state.

His vetoes instead focused on local spending projects and smaller-ticket items, including:

▪ Millions of dollars in local wastewater and environmental projects.

▪ $135 million for schools that perform well in the annual A-F state grading system that former Gov. Jeb Bush established two decades ago.

▪ $28 million in hepatitis C treatment for prison inmates, which was required under a settlement agreement with the federal government.

▪ $20 million for a 2nd District Court of Appeal courthouse in St. Petersburg.

The vetoes were smaller than many people were expecting, and Democratic lawmakers immediately raised concerns that the budget was not realistic. Florida’s budget is based on revenue forecasts made by state economists months ago, before the coronavirus took effect. Those economists are not scheduled to come out with new estimates until August.

State statute requires that anytime state economists determine the drop in revenues exceed 1.5% of the budget reserves in the general revenue fund, it triggers action: The governor can either make across the board cuts or call legislators into session to do it. What remains unknown is which approach the governor will take.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking and analyzing the situation with the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, Florida, USA on Friday, June 19, 2020. Photo: YES Market Media/Shutterstock.com

“We had big achievements and big gains,” DeSantis said. “My goal was to try to safeguard the historic achievements that we were able to do while also realizing historic savings, so that we could [move] forward on a more solid fiscal foundation.”

The federal government has begun helping Florida by steering money to help replace some of the vetoed programs. Last week, officials announced the state had received $240 million in federal CARES Act money to help families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, pay rent and mortgages. Half of it, $120 million, will be assigned to counties to give to its residents for rental and homeowner assistance programs.

You may see the approved budget document here.