Rep. Ben Diamond is again re-upping his calls for the state Revenue Estimating Conference to provide analytical data estimating the impacts of COVID-19 as he anticipates an economic fallout worse than the Great Recession.
“We fund the vast majority of our budget through sales tax,” Diamond told Florida Politics.
But with so many businesses closed and Floridians mostly staying home, retail sales that generate revenue have largely dried up.
“It’s like someone just grabbed the plug on the economy and just yanked it out,” Diamond said.
Diamond has sent letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis calling for a revenue conference meeting that would provide a detailed analysis of the state’s coronavirus economy, not the lean times the state was enjoying just over a month ago.
The legislature approved a $93.2 billion budget last month, which is currently on DeSantis’ desk waiting for review and possible line item vetoes. The Governor has hinted that without a Special Session to re-craft the budget, he may make substantial cuts through his line item veto power.
As Diamond notes, the current budget was crafted “based upon revenue projections made by our revenue estimating conference meeting last fall, well before this crisis wreaked havoc on our economy.”
“We should not wait until the next meeting of the revenue estimating conference, or until our Legislature is called into special session, to take all proactive steps to prepare for the inevitable and severe fiscal impact this pandemic will have on our state,” Diamond wrote to Patronis last month.
Nor should the budget be reliant on the Governor alone or a small group of lawmakers.
“It’s the Legislature’s job to do that work,” Diamond said in support of a Special Session. “It should require the input and consideration of all of the members of the Legislature.”
But a Special Session in the age of coronavirus presents some logistical challenges, as lawmakers already faced in early March to a lesser degree. The state is now under strict social distancing orders limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 and requiring six-feet of distance between people not of the same family unit.
Gathering hundreds of lawmakers for a session would make adhering to those guidelines difficult.
“There are precautions that we can take,” Diamond said.
He mentioned previous precautions including health screenings, limited attendance and frequent cleaning. He also noted some states have taken to conducting business in virtual meetings.
“I don’t think that’s as effective as meeting I person,” Diamond said though, noting Congress is still meeting in person.
He also quipped that “if wrestling is essential in Florida, rewriting the budget is also essential.”
“I think that it will be important for the [Senate] President and the [House] Speaker to ensure we do this in a way that’s thoughtful in following the CDC guidelines, but we can’t pretend that this isn’t going to have a major impact on our state economy,” Diamond added.