Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to use the federal relief package to supplement the state’s unemployment trust fund and to stimulate the economy with local projects.
Of the more than $17 billion in federal relief coming to Florida from the American Rescue Plan Act, upward of $10 billion will go directly to the state’s coffers. Unlike the CARES Act, which came when the Legislature was not in Session, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will defer to lawmakers to allocate spending.
The Governor has railed against the federal plan for tying funding to the number of unemployed residents rather than a state’s population. DeSantis says Florida could lose $2 billion because of that plan. But Simpson didn’t repeat those complaints in discussions with reporters on Thursday.
“Obviously it takes a lot of the pressure off of the entire system of the state of Florida by these dollars coming in, because it will stimulate the economy, which will produce additional sales tax,” Simpson said.
However, that funding is a one-time deal, meaning the state needs to use it to fund nonrecurring, “dynamic” projects that boost work opportunities, Simpson said. Those could be road construction, water projects and more, but legislative leaders hadn’t yet hammered out specifics.
However, those two areas were ones he hoped to negotiate funding for with the House and Governor’s Office.
The Florida Transportation Trust Fund took a hit in the first months of the pandemic because of sales tax collections, so putting funding back in transportation could stimulate job creation.
“It’s Florida. There’s 1,000, maybe 2,000 people a day moving here, so we need to get ahead of the curve on our road construction and water projects,” Simpson said.
The Senate President also hopes to put federal funds into the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, said spokeswoman Katie Betta.
That’s the second half of Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ deal to refill that trust fund. They’re all calling for using proposed new enforcement on online sales taxes. Diverting those proceeds to the trust fund will prevent a tax hike on businesses from automatically kicking in to refill the fund’s coffers.
“By doing the unemployment trust fund compensation we did the way we did, we believe that will lead to many, many thousands of Floridians getting hired,” Simpson said. “Businesses will be able to better afford to do that without that additional burden.”
Additionally, the Senate President expects the state’s economy to recover as more people get vaccinated and tourism recovers. Already, Florida’s revenues are exceeding December projections on a month-to-month basis.
“We probably will see a really good tourism season by the end of the year, so we should have a really good collection of revenue this year,” Simpson said.