They predict next year will be more challenging, with the effects of COVID-19 on Florida “like sinkholes.”
Two of Florida’s top lawmakers offered their insights on the recent legislative session in a July 27 webinar hosted by the Gunster law firm.
Republican Party Majority Leader Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, was joined by state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, the Democratic Party minority leader, for the discussion moderated by attorneys Joanna Bonfanti and Ronald Brise of Gunster’s government affairs practice.
Gibson and Passidomo agreed that the $93.2 billion state budget, cut by $1 billion by Gov. Ron DeSantis before he signed it, included successes for the state.
Gibson cited the $690 million for water quality and protection, keeping the state’s Housing Trust Fund intact and education appropriations, particularly a pay raise for teachers.
“We need more teachers and we need to make sure teachers can support themselves and their families,” Gibson said.
Passidomo said reforming state guardianship law to better protect older adults was a policy highlight of the session.
The Florida Legislature approved amending the law to limit the authority of a legal guardian by requiring a court order before a do-not-resuscitate order approved by the guardian is valid for the guardian’s ward.
“That protects our most vulnerable population,” Passidomo said.
Passidomo said she supports creation of a commission to evaluate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state, similar to the commission that was formed after 9/11.
“We need to look at what we did right and what we did wrong. There’s no precedent for the pandemic,” Passidomo said.
Gibson said the pandemic is sure to impact crafting next year’s budget, such as compensating for the loss of tourism revenue.
She compared those future issues to sinkholes.
“You don’t know where they’ll show up,” Gibson said.
She predicts that next year’s budget will be tight in terms of approving local spending proposals for specific districts.
“Projects that weren’t funded this year probably won’t be funded next year,” Gibson said.
The lawmakers agree that a state income tax won’t be on the next legislative session’s list of possible solutions to the revenue shortfall.
“That’s a definite nonstarter. Not having state income tax brings a lot of people, and their wealth, to Florida,” Passidomo said.
Asked about the reopening the state – public schools and entertainment venues – Gibson and Passidomo said common sense needs to prevail and every county should be allowed to decide its timetable because different parts of the state are affected differently by COVID-19.
“We need common sense and science to get us out of where we are,” Gibson said.
The solution won’t come from the state as much as from its people, Passidomo said.
“People are gathering without social distancing and without wearing masks. I don’t understand why people in Florida aren’t taking personal responsibility,” she said.
Visit Gunster.com/COVID19 to view a recording of the webinar.