As coronavirus spreads, Florida lawmakers meet with tough budget choices ahead

As coronavirus spreads, Florida lawmakers meet with tough budget choices ahead

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With Florida’s COVID-19 crisis far from over, and thousands still out of work, state lawmakers returned to Tallahassee Tuesday facing a number of difficult budget decisions.

Known as an organization session, two Senators were forced to miss this first formal day of the legislative term due to a positive COVID-19 test.

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Senate President Wilton Simpson paused during the session to recognize those who have died from the coronavirus, including more than 17,000 Florida residents to date.

As lawmakers returned to the capitol, they did so with the virus still spreading, taking a toll on lives and livelihoods...They’ll need to address both.

“We are going to need to tighten our belt,” Simpson said as he addressed the legislature. “There are things we did in times of plenty that will need to be eliminated in times of lean.”

Florida is facing a $3.5-billion shortfall this year, and another $2-billion next year.

As lawmakers consider where the funds will come from, they say cuts to K-12 education, and increases in fees for state services could be on the table.

One idea that’s not on the table: recreational marijuana use.

As for the state’s broken unemployment system, Simpson acknowledges, “It’s something we’ll have to address.”

However, Simpson couldn’t offer specifics on when it might be addressed, saying those meetings were yet to be scheduled.