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Rep. Andrade: Significant State Budget Cuts Coming

Florida House of Representatives

State lawmakers are preparing for the 2021 Florida legislative session. District 2 Representative Alex Andrade shared his thoughts on this year’s priorities and challenges.

“The elephant in the room obviously is the budget crunch we’ll be facing this year," he said. We’ll be looking at between a $2 and $4 billion loss to revenue that the Florida legislature is going to have to figure out how to balance." 

The damage that the coronavirus pandemic has done to the state finances will indeed be front and center when the legislative session begins. The state is constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget every year.

“And with the budget shortfall in that range of $2 to $4 billion when we have about a $92 billion budget, it’s going to be a significant hit," added Andrade. "And on top of that, because of all the constrictions from COVID-19 and our workforce, we as a state are also going to have an additional one billion dollars in required spending in the state-match for Medicaid recipients because so many more people now qualify for Medicaid.”

It is going to be a tough year for a lot of people that depend on Florida funding for operations for their organizations. - Florida House District 2 Representative Alex Andrade

Andrade expects that the lion’s share of the hole in the budget will be filled with cuts.

“There are opportunities for increased revenue, but when you talk about increased revenue in the form of increased fees or taxes that Florida citizens are already paying, I think you are going to see a very strong push back from a conservative legislature," said Andrade. "So I do think that we are going to be making significant cuts first and foremost and it’s going to be a tough year for a lot of people that depend on Florida funding for operations for their organizations.”

As the annual session goes on there will be suggestions made about raising revenue. Andrade spoke about settling the state’s compact with the Florida Seminole Tribe for gambling which could raise millions for the state. He also talked about sales tax and the internet.

“We don’t have a standardized sales tax for online sales here in Florida," said Andrade. "Obviously there’s a lot of frustration I think from a lot of brick and mortar stores who put down roots here in Florida and are paying full freight in sales tax and property tax and every other type of fee and tax that they are required to pay locally, (while) an online vendor from out of state can ship the same product and not have to collect that same tax. And the irony obviously is that that product, if it is being shipped from somewhere out of state based on an online sale is going to be traveling those roads that vendors here in Florida are paying for.”

District 2 is having its own unique fiscal issues. Since the Three Mile Bridge was damaged and forced to close by Hurricane Sally in September, many businesses and residents are struggling. Andrade says that even in the best of times the state would likely not come to the rescue. He likens it to the situation with the BP oil spill, where any relief will be coming from the responsible party and not the state.

“The vast majority of funds that were appropriated for any kind of relief program were coming directly from BP, from settlements with BP. Trying to figure out how the state Attorney General’s office (is) looking at Skanska’s responsibility is to individual business owners and residents is one thing that I am working to try and determine. But no, there’s not going to be a spending relief act from the legislature to help small businesses. And what I encourage small business (to do is), if they think Skanska has caused them damages or losses to their businesses, seek out the advice and assistance from any number of attorneys in Pensacola to try and determine whether or not they should make a claim directly against Skanska.”

However that doesn’t mean there will be no help from the government. Andrade points out that some funds and programs are still just getting started for Hurricane Michael relief, so help from the federal government should be on the way eventually.

“We are going to most likely see some funds coming from FEMA in the form of community development block-grants, what most people understand to be C.D.B.G. grants. And those can be used in any number of ways depending on the parameters that are put together when that program is established. So I think you are going to see the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity administering some federal funds for Hurricane Sally relief generally. Hopefully a lot of that will help the same people who are struggling because the bridge is down.”

For now, Representative Andrade says the state can make sure that repairs to the bridge continue to be on schedule and the tolls at the Garcon Point Bridge continue to be suspended.

Interim committee meetings for the upcoming session will begin on February 8 and run for two weeks. The two-month 2021 Florida legislative session begins on March 2. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.