The Senate budget chief hinted that a portion of $10 billion of federal coronavirus relief funds could be banked rather than spent.
The Senate released its first offer of how to spend federal coronavirus relief funds headed to Florida from the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March. But the offer released Wednesday during a budget conference meeting only totaled $3.3. billion out of an expected $10.2 billion.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, who leads the budget negotiations for the upper chamber, said discussions are ongoing.
“It’s not really off,” Stargel said. “Things aren’t settled.”
But the Senate budget chief also floated the idea that the total federal coronavirus relief funds don’t immediately need to be spent.
“Whatever we don’t allocate goes to non-allocated GR (general revenue). So, there’s a possibility there’ll be a significant amount of non-allocated GR, so we don’t have to make all the decisions right now, right this moment, this year. Especially when it’s contingent on funds we haven’t even received yet,” Stargel said.
Regardless of how much the Senate saves or spends, the current allocation is likely to go through many changes. The only alignment between the two chambers so far is on $2 billion for the State Transportation Trust Fund.
Even the total amount allocated varies widely. The Senate’s offer totals $3.3 billion, while the House has proposed allocations totaling $7.9 billion.
The House budget is based on federal coronavirus money the lower chamber listed in the back of their its budget proposal bill. The Senate did not initially allocate federal coronavirus relief funding in its budget proposal.
There might be alignment between the two chambers to fix flooding issues in the state. The House splits up a large swath of the money, more than $500 billion, to the statewide effort to mitigate flooding effects such as coastal mapping and beach management. The Senate puts $500 million in the Resilient Florida Trust Fund, which is a new fund that will also be used to mitigate flooding.
Another large line item for the House is $3.5 billion for a “Deferred Building Maintenance Program,” which would repair and update various government buildings across the state. The Senate does not have budget for that. The closest item looks to be $200 million for “higher-education construction.”
“We’re just trying to figure out where we put these in a way that’s going to benefit people the best, and not be ticky-tacky little things that starts getting everybody in trying to fight for this little piece,” Stargel said.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, said the chamber is looking at spending the federal funds on “one time dynamic type projects.”
The Senate also allocated $300 million to a state conservation program called Florida Forever, $100 million to an “African American Cultural and Historical Grant Program” and $100 million to fix the recent disaster at the Piney Point Reservoir.
The Senate’s first offer does not include $1,000 bonus checks to first responders and teachers, an idea pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The House proposal does not include the checks either.
When asked about the direct payments Simpson said “maybe.”
“When you talk about direct relief, the frontline responders did not take a day off for the pandemic – law enforcement, teachers and and other frontlines. So maybe they’ll wind up with some of that direct response,” Simpson said.
Stargel, when asked about direct payments to teachers, said it’s “still in the mix.”
“Whether it would be these funds, there’s also some funds in K-12 that are different as well, so I’m not sure exactly where,” Stargel said. “But it is a priority to make sure that we recognize our teachers,” Stargel added.