The story of the first committee week in Tallahassee is one of budgetary belt tightening as the state attempts to power out of the COVID-19 recession, and that holds true for the House Infrastructure and Tourism Committee.
The panel held its first meeting Wednesday. Republican committee Chair Rep. Jayer Williamson pushed forth a PowerPoint, urging considerations of critical and core functions and the “highest and best use” of finite resources.
With the state expecting a revenue shortfall of $2.75 billion in the coming budget, and deficits for two years thereafter, budget hits are felt everywhere, and they will frame the political legacy of this generation of leaders.
And this committee may have latitude to help, via some creative accounting that was used during another tough time for the state.
99% of the budget primarily is a function of state and federal trust funds, each of which lack discretion in terms of programming. But Williamson suggests that “trust fund transfers” may have a role in helping the committee, and the state, find “alternative ways” of handling a revenue deficit by sweeping unspent balances into general revenue.
The Great Recession offers a template to a point, Williamson urged, though it’s no instruction manual for what is to come.
“We can learn from that, learn what they did well and the mistakes they made there. While our committee may not have a lot of general revenue, trust fund transfers can ease the burden for health care and education,” he added.
“The key thing to think about in the next month or two,” Williamson said, is “where do we go from here?”
Answering that question will be a “challenge over the next couple of months,” Williamson suggested.
“This really is going to be a tough budget year,” he added, one with “tough choices” but “great challenges and great opportunities.”