Florida lawmakers are gearing up for the 2021 regular session, with a full plate awaiting them in Tallahassee. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody spoke with two members of the local delegation –first up, a veteran state legislator.
Doug Broxson, a Republican from Gulf Breeze, is beginning his second term in Florida Senate District-1, after defeating Democratic challenger Karen Butler in November. Prior to that, he served two terms in the House.
Heading to the start of the session on March 2nd, Florida is looking at a projected $3.3 billion, two-year revenue shortfall, including an estimated $2.75 billion deficit in fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1.
“Frankly, for the last eight months we’ve been almost exclusively under executive order in dealing with many of the issues with COVID; that’s been eating away at our deficit even more,” said Doug Broxson, (R-Gulf Breeze), who is beginning his second term from Florida Senate District-1 after serving two terms in the House.
Looking ahead to the session, he says one of the major funding challenges is education.
“I think we’re going to see some pretty hard times for many of the programs; we’re going to try to make sure that we fund properly K-12,” Broxson said. “I believe you’re going to see some adjustments in higher ed, as far as availabilities of money that we have.”
But the good news for higher education, contends Broxson, is that the second and third rounds of CARES act federal funding has been approved, and is expected to pump about two billion dollars into the classroom – much of it to the universities.
“We’re trying to work with the universities – make sure that they don’t create new programs that we cannot fund next year, but maybe help us get through this shortfall by responsibly using that money on areas that are recurring, and not something that’s new,” said Broxson. “
But that said, Broxson is also quick to add that schools in Florida are not as slammed as they are in other states.
“Florida is so far ahead of many of these other states that are completely broke,” said Broxson. “We’ve continued to send students to class; we have a vibrant distance-learning program [for] both higher ed and K-12. We feel good about where we are from an educational standpoint, but there are going to be some difficult cuts.”
Another budget Achilles heel, says Broxson, is an unexpected billion dollar increase in Medicaid – and how it may impact mandated commitments such as education, roads, and prisons. State law requires the Legislature to produce a balanced budget; something in 2021 that will be easier said than done.
“I think it’s going to be across-the-board cuts; I’ve been meeting with staff every day in my silo, which is educational appropriation,” Broxson said. “We’re looking at every way we can fairly cut, and still have a vibrant educational system in Florida. But there going to be some difficult cuts that will be fair.”
In regards to Florida Senate District-1, Broxson says he’s reducing the number of bills he plans to sponsor this year, because of the gaping hole in the general budget.
“I’ve notified the counties and cities that their member projects are going to be reduced this year, if any,” said Broxson. “And we’re going to try to fund those things that are the core mission of the state: transportation, education, children and families, [and] criminal justice. All those things that people depend on.”
Two of the higher-profile measures to be filed are House Bill-7 and Senate Bill 72. They would extend COVID-19 liability protection to businesses, schools, nonprofits and religious institutions which make a “good-faith effort” to follow guidelines.
In our next report, we sit down with a freshman lawmaker preparing for her first session.