State Rep. Ben Diamond is putting legislative leadership on blast, arguing they irresponsibly failed to act during a budget crisis.
“Under our state constitution, it is our responsibility as a Legislature to write our state budget. Because of the unprecedented challenges we currently face with the pandemic, it was my opinion that the Legislature should have reconvened in special session to rewrite HB 5001, the 2020-2021 General Appropriations Act,” Diamond wrote to Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva Monday.
“The revenue reports from April and May already demonstrate that the budget we passed, HB 5001, is obsolete, and should have been rewritten,” the St. Petersburg Democrat continued.
Instead, he said, Galvano and Oliva’s failure to convene the Legislature for a Special Session left Gov. Ron DeSantis to “appropriate this money himself, without legislative authorization.”
“HB 5001 is based on a revenue forecast completed last fall, before the pandemic forced the shutdown of our economy. Given that more than three quarters of Florida’s general revenue comes from sales tax collection, and that Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and hospitality, it was reasonable to anticipate that the fiscal impact of this crisis on Florida would be severe, and require the substantial revision of our Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget,” Diamond wrote.
“Despite these challenges, and instead of agreeing to call a special session, you have sent HB 5001 to the Governor, and he has signed it today.”
Diamond also took issue with leadership not calling a Special Session to address how to appropriated federal funding through CARES Act appropriations.
He cites Article VII, Section I of Florida’s constitution providing that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of appropriation made by law.”
“The Governor and his agencies may not expend this money unless there is a specific appropriation authorizing the expenditure in question. It is our duty as members of the Legislature to make these decisions,” Diamond argues.
“This is our constitutional duty, and the Governor cannot usurp it, even in a time of emergency. The Governor may be able to waive certain statutes or rules during times of emergency, but he cannot waive the requirements of Florida’s constitution.”
Diamond has repeatedly called for a Special Session to address COVID-19-related issues including in a March 23 letter to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
The budget is now signed so there’s little to be done to address it now, but Diamond is still calling for a Special Session to address coronavirus response and recovery.
“This crisis requires us in the Legislature to act now – not later. We should meet to consider how we can deploy more resources to the fight against the coronavirus, how our budget priorities have changed, and how we can exercise our oversight responsibilities to ensure the State’s response is keeping as many Floridians as safe as possible,” he wrote.