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Florida Lawmakers Not Banking On Federal Government Aid To Fill Budget Holes

Photo: Lynn Hatter/WFSU

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic uncertainty have blown a $3.3 billion hole into the state’s budget projections for the next two years. That’s actually an IMPROVEMENT from what state economists first thought. Still, the state will need to find an extra $2.75 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, and the House appropriations committee chairman isn’t looking to the federal government for help.

State economists say lawmakers will need to cut about $2 billion from the budget in the upcoming fiscal year, and healthcare and education—the two largest spending items—are already being eyed. During a budget overview in the House appropriations committee, Democratic Representative Joe Geller asked whether the legislature could build a parallel budget plan that factors in federal aid.

“Obviously we don’t know how much it would be…how much would it need to be for us to be looking at a substantially improved picture?” Geller asked Appropriations Committee Chairman Jay Trumbull. Trumbull’s response?

“I think it’s incumbent on this body to make decisions on our fiscal health as it relates to today, without any understanding of whether congress is going to give extra money, because in reality, we don’t know.”

Lawmakers are hoping for better news when the next budget estimate rolls out in February, but they’re planning for worst-case scenarios.

While most of the state’s general revenue is spent on education, the healthcare budget is larger, infused with a large amount of federal money. Much of those dollars are spent on Medicaid which covers low-income Floridians, and as unemployment has soared, so have the state’s Medicaid enrollment.

The fiscal picture isn’t slated to improve much soon, largely to to the headwinds facing the state’s biggest industry: tourism. Economists believe it’ll take several more years before that sector rebounds.

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