Florida’s incoming House speaker warned members of the South Florida Business Council this week that in order to weather the “massive financial hit” the state sustained from the pandemic, there will need to be “significant cuts to the budget.”
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who is in line to become the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives for two years in November, hinted that the budget austerity needed to recover from the coronavirus-induced recession would take “three to four years to get back to where we are,” but he was optimistic Florida would be in better shape than other states.
“We’ve had an obviously massive financial hit to the state, not unlike the businesses we’ve seen interrupted or closed during this period of time in COVID, which is going to create a significant challenge for us,’’ Sprowls told the virtual webinar of about 250 members of the council, which includes members of the chambers of commerce in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“The only way to kind of weather that storm and get the state back on its feet is going to mean significant cuts to the budget,’’ he said.“ There’s going to be businesses and restaurants that unfortunately never open their doors again here in Florida, and that’s going to take a toll on the economy.”
A survey of the group’s members before the event found that 64% said that COVID-19 is the top issue facing Florida.
But, in keeping with Florida’s Republican governor and incoming Senate president, all of whom are Trump supporters devoted to helping the incumbent president win re-election, Sprowls refrained from discussing some of the darker details related to the COVID-induced troubles in the state’s budget.
For example, Florida economists say the state faces faces a $5.4 billion budget deficit over the next two years that will necessitate the budget cuts. The governor has suspended COVID-related evictions and mortgage foreclosures five times, the latest expiring on Oct. 1 and the decision has left a housing industry in limbo with no promise for what could happen to the hundreds of thousands of families who don’t have the money to pay their owed back rent.
Sprowls also avoided any mention of the state’s unemployment rolls, a number that shows signs of improving in August but which remains at 7.4% compared to the pre-COVID record lows. And he said nothing about the fate of the state’s unemployment fund, which by Election Day could run out of cash to pay benefits to jobless workers.
Legislators on the sideline
As the coronanvirus barreled into Florida, shuttering businesses in the peak of the summer tourist season and infecting nearly 700,000 residents, Sprowls and other Republican legislative leaders have left the spotlight to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
This month, Sprowls and incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson penned an op-ed addressing another issue not often touched by Republicans: a call for better floodplain management in the face of sea level rise.
Democrats have tried and failed to call for