GOP lawmakers cautious of spending federal support on recurring state companies

TALLAHASSEE – With Florida still recovering from a 50-year high unemployment rate, tourism far from normal, and housing expensive and hard to find, lawmakers must spend $ 10.2 billion in profit on the federal government.

But instead of using the one-time cash to lessen the financial losses Floridians and many companies suffered during the Covid-19 year, lawmakers so far are trying to put most of the money into road repairs, building maintenance, and sewage and water projects stuck.

They will also build government reserves to the $ 5 billion level. And likely to create a new $ 1 billion fund for emergency response – basically another reserve.

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The cautious stance of the Republican-controlled legislature towards the American bailout plan approved by President Biden and the Democrat-led Congress frustrates many Florida Democrats who have unsuccessfully urged more dollars to be spent not only faster, but more on people than projects.

“We spend more money on the delayed maintenance of leaky state buildings than on direct aid to the millions of Floridians who have been pushed into poverty due to Covid-19,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, MP from Orlando, D-Orlando. “There is no direct relief for companies. Affordable housing has been defused … and the only tax loopholes that we have closed are tax loopholes that benefit consumers. “

Smith said, “We have to do a lot better.”

As lawmakers prepare to negotiate a nearly $ 100 billion state budget, Republican leaders say they will not spend federal aid on programs or projects that will continue to charge US dollars for years to come.

Legislators have constitutional restrictions on spending such one-time income on recurring needs. But the American bailout plan offers Republican leaders the kind of mountainous money that could cover a wide range of needs long ignored by the Florida government.

Budget changes failed

The House Democrats tried to bring this to the fore with budget changes that failed in party-line votes, including Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg proposes spending nearly $ 3.5 billion to qualify frontline workers for grants of $ 1,000 during the pandemic, and smaller, hard-hit businesses with federal funds to apply for grants of up to $ 25,000 allow.

Smith planned to spend $ 52 million on one-time full funding of grant applications from cultural programs and museums, including theaters, performances and art exhibitions, which had to close for much of the past year.

This volume of grant applications has not been met by the state for seven years. And art and cultural events create jobs and spur consumer spending, which is good for the economy, so proponents.

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Similarly, Smith’s other major change referred to $ 795 million to cover the nearly 23,000 low-income and developmental disabilities in Florida on waiting lists for services.

Legislators typically cover a few hundred of the most critical Floridians in need of services for disability programs, elderly care, and Alzheimer’s support each year – but the lists keep swelling, especially during the pandemic.

For example, the state’s waiting list for elderly care in the community expanded to 49,852 Floridians last month, state records show.

Instead, Republican leaders warn that such spending would be an obligation that the state could not meet every year.

“It would be incredibly short-sighted to use one-time money … and then let them lose their services next year,” said Jay Trumbull, budget chairman of the R-Panama City House of Representatives.

Long waiting lists persist

Despite the amount of money, the House and Senate budgets are causing significant cuts in Medicaid’s payments to hospitals, supporting universities, and diverting millions of dollars of affordable housing.

The state’s financial picture brightened even further earlier this month, and tax revenues are now forecast to give lawmakers an additional $ 2 billion on top of federal incentives.

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And even more federal funds could flow into the state in the next year. While Biden is earmarking the US $ 10.2 billion rescue plan for Florida to ease working families, the government is now funding a US $ 2 trillion employment plan, primarily aimed at restoring national infrastructure.

This move could be approved by Congress this summer to provide even more dollars to Florida lawmakers.

Democrats are vastly inferior in Florida legislation. Your views on spending will therefore do little to align budget negotiations with the legislature’s scheduled April 30 closure.

However, some Democrats have urged GOP leaders to get more creative with the $ 10.2 billion the American bailout plan will give them by the end of 2024.

The House and Senate Republicans recently demonstrated their ability to innovate when it comes to cutting taxes on businesses.

Lawmakers sent Governor Ron DeSantis a move by Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, chairman of the Florida GOP to expand the state’s online sales tax revenue and use cash from those collections to help eliminate tax increases of $ 713.5 million Dollar stuck is unemployment insurance.

Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, here in 2019, described the proposed sales tax measure as

Even with the threat of spike, Florida’s unemployment tax would have remained the lowest in the country – with businesses averaging around $ 50 per employee, compared to a national average of $ 277.

The tax hike was triggered automatically when the employer-funded Unemployment Compensation Fund shrank from $ 4 billion to about $ 500 million after paying off $ 2.3 million in claims from Floridians who lost jobs during the pandemic were.

Now that taxpayers’ money, collected from online shoppers, will cover the trust fund’s tax hike, which the state’s largest business associations are advocating for cancellation. The online sales tax change was a “loophole” for consumers that was closed by lawmakers, according to Smith.

If the Unemployment Fund hits $ 4 billion in probably four years’ time, that extra online taxpayer’s money will be used to pay off the $ 1 billion in office rental taxes paid annually by corporations , Lower warehouses and other commercial space.

GOP is worried about the future

While Republicans say they are concerned about the one-off nature of federal aid, this tax shift they approved actually reduces recurring treasury revenue by $ 1 billion, reducing the amount of that dependable $ 1 billion.

DeSantis, for his part, had previously outlined plans to spend at least a portion – $ 4.1 billion – of the stimulus coming to Florida.

While advocating the idea that large dollars should be used for needed infrastructure projects – similar to the ideas of the GOP legislators – the governor also recommended pumping more money directly to the Floridians, with the idea now being touted by the Democrats.

The governor proposed spending more than $ 400 million of Washington’s money on $ 1,000 in bonus payments for public school teachers, school principals, first responders, full-time law enforcement, firefighters, rescue workers, and other personnel.

So far, such expenses have not made it into the budget plans.

Senate President Wilton Simpson says he is open to using federal stimulus funds on infrastructure projects.

Still, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, appeared to endorse the concept as part of a larger effort to restore Florida’s economy.

“If you look at the areas where we spend our money, build real infrastructure, build roads, build water projects … give rewards to frontline workers, teachers, proofreaders and the like, it will be very stimulating for the Florida economy,” Simpson said.

John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau on the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

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