House, Senate agree to earmark $6.9 billion of $10.2 billion coronavirus relief funds

The plan includes $2B for the state transportation fund.

The House and Senate have agreed on how to spend $10.2 billion of federal coronavirus relief funds. In a twist, part of that agreement involves not spending a good portion of it.

Planning for the state’s likely $100 billion budget for the next fiscal year is mostly done including negotiations over how to spend billions of coronavirus relief funds for state and local governments headed to Florida from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March.

The coronavirus relief budget agreed to by both chambers on Monday totals $6.69 billion. That leaves $3.5 billion of that money to pad the state’s bank balance, which is expected to be shared tomorrow.

The state has at least three years to allocate money from the federal stimulus package. The House and Senate in recent days traded offers on how much of the money to use — and where to spend it.

Both House budget chief Rep. Jay Trumbull and Sen. Kelli Stargel have said unspent coronavirus relief funds will go into the state’s unallocated general revenue. Trumbull said money in the bank is good for the state’s credit rating. Guidelines for COVID-19 relief funds say the state has until 2024 to spend the money.

Both budget chairs said they would only use the funds for non-recurring projects because the federal funds are a one-time deal.

The biggest line item in the spending plan is $2 billion for the State Transportation Trust Fund, which was depleted during the pandemic. From those funds, $1.75 billion will be used for highway projects, with a priority on highway projects halted during the pandemic. The rest of that money will be used to offset COVID-19 impacts to the state’s cruise and cargo ship industry in the form of $250 million worth of grants for the state’s ports.

Another $1 billion line item is a new emergency trust fund to be used at the discretion of the Governor in the event of an emergency. The fund was opposed by Democrats, but Gov. Ron DeSantis supported the emergency fund in his budget planning.

Other spending includes over $1 billion split between various water projects across the state, such as flood mitigation, a septic-to-sewer program and Everglades restoration.

“We’re trying to focus on things that were one-time, infrastructure builds,” said Stargel, a Lakeland Republican. “I think water for the state of Florida is a very important issue.”

The two chambers earlier agreed to spend $100 million of the federal money to clean up a former phosphate plant in Manatee County; $300 million on the statewide wildlife corridor under the Florida Forever program; and $500 million to convert septic tanks to sewage systems. The two sides also agreed to use $500 million for the Resilient Florida Trust Fund, which is tied to a grant program that would address sea-level rise and flooding.

Smaller but memorable line items include more than $200 million for $1,000 direct one-time payments to the state’s first responders and $56.4 million for the state’s unemployment assistance program, which the pandemic revealed had been plagued with problems.

A line item added by the House in its last pass at the budget and agreed to by the Senate included $50 million for an economic development program designed to promote public infrastructure and workforce training run by the Department of Economic Opportunity called the Job Growth Grant Fund.

___

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at [email protected]



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