The House and Senate passed the $93.2 billion state budget Thursday, with most lawmakers present amid concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano had asked lawmakers in the at-risk demographic or those feeling respiratory illness symptoms to stay home. By the final tally, 104 House members and 32 Senators voted to approve the budget (HB 5001).
Republicans and Democrats praised budget chiefs Rep. Travis Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley for creating a bipartisan spending package.
The budget includes $52 million for fighting COVID-19. Including reserves, the budget dedicated $300 million for the coronavirus pandemic for the coming fiscal year starting in July.
Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, noted the state has billions of dollars in reserves. He predicted Cummings would have a more difficult job when revenue stops rolling in.
“I know this chamber has a history of not wanting to dip into reserves, but this may be a time that we need to seriously consider that as a means to supplement this budget,” Jenne said. “It’s not going to be enough as we move forward.”
Bradley said the state is in a good position with this budget to weather the pandemic.
“This is an unprecedented time in our state’s history,” he said. “The good news is that the people of our state are united and we are fighters.”
Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, says if lawmakers need to return in a special Session because of a shortfall in revenues, he hopes they act quickly.
“We do have the ability to take advantage of low interest rates, to give the executive branch a bonding capacity to go out and refinance debt or to better yet advance some construction projects, infrastructure projects in this environment to provide some Keynesian stimulus at this time,” he said.
During a Thursday press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said his veto considerations now will be vastly different from had the state passed a budget two months ago. Not only are the easy items to strike on the table, but some programs he might be fond of would be on the table.
As for a possible special Session, Oliva and Galvano told reporters the outbreak won’t necessarily raise the need to reassess the budget. Oliva pointed to federal work on an upcoming vaccine as a possible saving grace to turn the economy around as fast as the virus has threatened it.
“We believe that a vaccine could have a very immediate turn of events, so that’s what we would hope for,” he said. “But we have to understand that the level of shutdown that has been required in order to ensure that this virus is contained is having an economic effect that is real.”
However, federal health experts have said it could take more than a year to develop a vaccine.
Expanding unemployment support could be in the works in the event of a prolonged economic slide. It also puts pressure on the state to reach a gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe during a special Session.
Indicators that would bring lawmakers back to Tallahassee include revenues from the sales and corporate income taxes, Galvano said. The Legislature plans to ask its budget experts to meet monthly instead of quarterly to assess the state’s finances.
On Wednesday evening, officials reported three cases of the coronavirus in Tallahassee, including one death. As of Thursday morning, there were 390 Florida cases of the coronavirus, including 30 non-residents, and at least eight deaths.
And in closing, Jenne had parting words for his House colleagues.
“God bless the state of Florida, God bless this chamber and please, six feet and wash your damn hands.”