De­San­tis ve­toes $1B from state bud­get

Miami Herald - - Front Page - BY LAWRENCE MOWER AND MARY ELLEN KLAS lmower@tam­pabay.com meklas@mi­ami­her­ald.com Her­ald/Times Tal­la­has­see Bureau

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE

Gov. Ron De­San­tis an­nounced more than $1 bil­lion in ve­toes to the state bud­get on Mon­day in an ef­fort to blunt the state’s eco­nomic fall­out from the coro­n­avirus.

The cuts bring the state bud­get to $92.2 bil­lion while set­ting aside more than $6.3 bil­lion in re­serves to with­stand ex­pected short­falls over the next fis­cal year, which starts Wed­nes­day.

“Ev­ery­one un­der­stands the cir­cum­stances have changed,” De­San­tis said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the Capitol on Mon­day. “I think we all have to rec­og­nize that none of us are go­ing to get ev­ery­thing that we want.”

De­San­tis had warned last week that the pend­ing cuts would be “the veto equiv­a­lent of the Red Wed­ding from ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” re­fer­ring to a dra­matic scene from the hit HBO show in which some of the main char­ac­ters were be­trayed and killed by their al­lies from the HBO show.

But in re­al­ity, he kept some of the big­gest is­sues passed by law­mak­ers this ses­sion, in­clud­ing mea­sures that had wide­spread bi­par­ti­san sup­port:

$500 mil­lion for teacher raises.

A 3% pay raise for all state em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing him­self and the three mem­bers of the Cabi­net.

Giv­ing cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers an­other $500 to $2,500 de­pend­ing on their ex­pe­ri­ence.

$100 mil­lion to buy and pre­serve land around the state.

His ve­toes in­stead fo­cused on local spend­ing projects and smaller-ticket items, in­clud­ing:

Mil­lions of dol­lars in local waste­water and en­vi­ron­men­tal projects.

$135 mil­lion for schools that per­form well in the

Gov. Ron De­San­tis said he ve­toed more than $1 bil­lion from the state bud­get he signed in an ef­fort to blunt the state’s eco­nomic fall­out from the coro­n­avirus. The new bud­get takes ef­fect July 1.

an­nual A-F state grad­ing sys­tem that for­mer Gov. Jeb Bush es­tab­lished two decades ago.

$28 mil­lion in hep­ati­tis C treat­ment for prison in­mates, which was re­quired un­der a set­tle­ment agree­ment with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

$20 mil­lion for a 2nd District Court of Ap­peal court­house in St. Pe­ters­burg.

Over the years, law­mak­ers have pro­tected the money that goes to schools that earn high grades even as crit­ics clam­ored for the money to go into other as­pects of ed­u­ca­tion. This year, some pushed for the amount to go into ed­u­ca­tors’ salaries. Be­cause of COVID-19, the state can­celed spring 2020 test­ing, on which school grades are largely based.

De­San­tis said the amount of money ve­toed was un­prece­dented

for a Florida gov­er­nor.

“No­body has ever made more ve­toes than I did right here,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve ever ve­toed a bil­lion dol­lars.”

But just three years ago, for­mer Gov. Rick Scott ve­toed nearly $12 bil­lion, in­clud­ing nearly the en­tire ed­u­ca­tion bud­get, which prompted law­mak­ers to re­turn to Tal­la­has­see for a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

When law­mak­ers passed their ver­sion of the bud­get in March, they knew it could be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent by the time it took ef­fect on

July 1. The same week they passed the record $93.2 bil­lion bud­get, the state saw a his­toric surge in unem­ploy­ment claims as Florid­i­ans be­gan to stay home to avoid COVID-19.

Sales taxes, the rev­enue law­mak­ers use to pay for schools, state agen­cies and other projects, have plum­meted since March. State rev­enues are $1.45 bil­lion be­low their pre-coro­n­avirus es­ti­mates, state economists

an­nounced Fri­day. Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics pre­dicts that Florida will have an $8 bil­lion rev­enue short­fall.

De­San­tis said he was plug­ging the holes by elim­i­nat­ing 203 va­cant po­si­tions in state gov­ern­ment, $20 mil­lion in the state job growth grant fund and not spend­ing $1.5 bil­lion in trust fund money. He also ex­pects to re­ceive bil­lions from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in CARES Act money.

“These were not easy de­ci­sions, but at the end of the day, I think we threaded the nee­dle by pre­serv­ing some of the his­toric achieve­ments that this ses­sion brought,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to weather the storm.”

De­San­tis’ bud­get de­ci­sions were quickly crit­i­cized by Democrats, how­ever.

“With­out con­sult­ing the Leg­is­la­ture or any elected Demo­cratic lead­ers, Ron De­San­tis made mas­sive bud­get cuts that will im­pact the lives of all Florid­i­ans,” the state’s Demo­cratic Party chair, Ter­rie Rizzo, said in a state­ment. “De­San­tis must own the con­se­quences of these cuts, which will in­evitably hurt our schools, our chil­dren, and our fam­i­lies.”

The bud­get also poses a po­lit­i­cal bal­anc­ing act for the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor. With coro­n­avirus caus­ing a dra­matic down­turn in sales taxes, the state’s bud­get cri­sis could be­come so deep that it could force law­mak­ers back to Tal­la­has­see.

But Re­pub­li­cans, who con­trol both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture, have re­sisted re­turn­ing to the cap­i­tal be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion, in part be­cause they fear Democrats would in­stead use the time to blast them over the state’s unem­ploy­ment woes and other is­sues re­lated to the state’s re­sponse to the coro­n­avirus.

Florida leg­is­la­tors al­lo­cated $25 mil­lion for the Depart­ment of Health to ad­dress the coro­n­avirus cri­sis for the 2020-21 bud­get year, and then ad­journed the ses­sion sug­gest­ing they would come back to al­ter the bud­get when they knew more. But leg­isla­tive lead­ers have de­cided they won’t be com­ing back after all and will al­low the gov­er­nor to use his emer­gency power to shift funds around.

Democrats have raised ques­tions about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of al­low­ing De­San­tis to al­lo­cate money when only the Leg­is­la­ture is au­tho­rized to ap­pro­pri­ate state funds, ac­cus­ing leg­isla­tive lead­ers of ced­ing bud­get and pub­lic health over­sight author­ity to the gov­er­nor.

Lead­ers of Florida’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled state House and Se­nate say there will be plenty of time to ad­dress these is­sues.

Florida has $4 bil­lion in re­serves and is ex­pected to re­ceive an es­ti­mated $6 bil­lion or more in fed­eral CARES Act money.

Mean­while, the in­creased costs of health­care spend­ing for more peo­ple ap­ply­ing for Med­i­caid, the loss of fees and funds to dozens of other pro­grams, and the sheer in­creased costs of per­son­nel, san­i­ta­tion and even over­sight will cre­ate new and un­prece­dented chal­lenges.

State statute re­quires that any­time state economists de­ter­mine the drop in rev­enues ex­ceed 1.5% of the bud­get re­serves in the gen­eral rev­enue fund, it trig­gers ac­tion: The gov­er­nor can ei­ther make across the board cuts or call leg­is­la­tors into ses­sion to do it. What re­mains un­known is which ap­proach the gov­er­nor will take.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has be­gun help­ing Florida by steer­ing funds to help re­place some of the ve­toed pro­grams. Last week, of­fi­cials an­nounced the state had re­ceived $240 mil­lion in fed­eral CARES Act money to help fam­i­lies hit hard by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic pay rent and mort­gages. Half of it, $120 mil­lion, will be as­signed to coun­ties to give to its res­i­dents for rental and home­owner as­sis­tance pro­grams.

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