Florida’s budget to adjust for coronavirus, leaders say after market plunge

House Speaker José Oliva said the state needs to be prepared for a recession spurred by the panic surrounding the virus.
SCOTT KEELER   |   Times Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva
SCOTT KEELER | Times Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva
Published March 9, 2020|Updated March 9, 2020

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TALLAHASSEE — After signaling that it was full speed ahead on the state’s budget despite the growing coronavirus crisis, top leaders in the Florida Legislature said on Monday they will need to re-evaluate because of the virus and the related stock market drop.

Five minutes into trading on Monday, a plunge in the S&P 500 hit 7 percent, triggering a 15-minute automatic halt to trading. The sudden drop was due to uncertainty caused by both the virus and trouble in the oil market.

“Some of you may have noticed the stock market this morning,” Speaker José Oliva of Miami Lakes told members of the Florida House shortly before they began taking up bills. Monday marked the start to the last scheduled week of the 2020 legislative session, the period when lawmakers negotiate the state’s budget.

“We may be facing a very real challenge here. The coronavirus, while it has had a rather minute effect on us, the panic surrounding it is having a real effect," he said.

Later Monday, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he agreed lawmakers need to take a second look at the budget before they pass it.

“Right now the cruise industry is in really bad condition. Things are dubious nationally,” Galvano said. “We really have to think about what dollars we’re spending and on a recurring basis.”

He said the amount of money the Legislature assigns to teacher pay raises might be scaled back, and a tax break package might also be reduced. Galvano added that he does not want to change a potential 3 percent pay raise for state employees or touch $370 million in the state’s affordable housing trust fund.

“We’re going to leave here with that trust fund intact,” Galvano said.

In a Monday evening news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis pumped the brakes. He said teacher raises, one of his top priority issues this session, should not be among the budget issues that get curtailed because of the crisis. “I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,’’ he said.

Still, the leaders’ comments Monday were far from the nonchalant tone set last week.

Just Thursday, as coronavirus cases in Florida mounted, the House passed a $193 million tax break bill which also continued refunding $543 million in corporate taxes. The chamber’s budget chief, Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, said Friday he “had not considered” the virus’s impact on state revenue which deeply depends on tourism.

Legislative leaders have agreed to dedicate $25 million toward response to the virus, as requested by DeSantis. Senate and House leaders also had reached an agreement for about $27 million in federal money to pay for preparedness. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the budget later this week.

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The session is scheduled to end Friday, though leaders have said they may need to extend for a few days to finish up the budget.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

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WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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