BY Dara Kam and Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — As the stock marketed plummeted Monday, House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, indicated that fears about the novel coronavirus could affect the ongoing negotiations about a new state budget.
“We may be facing a real challenge here,” Oliva told House members as they started what is the final scheduled week of the 2020 legislative session.
Oliva pointed to “panic” surrounding the spread of the virus, saying it is “having a real effect.” Oliva was not specific about steps that lawmakers might take to address the issue.
House and Senate negotiators are in the midst of trying to hammer out a roughly $92 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The legislative session is scheduled to end Friday but already faces an extension because of delays in negotiating the budget.
The economic troubles caused by the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, could play out in some of Florida’s key industries — such as tourism — that account for major chunks of tax revenue.
Uncertainty about the economic impact on Florida adds a new level of complication to the budget negotiations, lobbyist Mark Delegal, a partner with the Holland & Knight law firm, told The News Service of Florida following Oliva’s remarks.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of sales tax revenues related to tourism and general commerce,” Delegal said.
Not only are people reconsidering vacations in the Sunshine State, Floridians “may be thinking they can do a few less outings and a few more in-home activities while this plays out,” he added.
“The hope is the virus runs its course in the next couple of weeks and we’re back to business as usual,” said Delegal, whose clients range from safety-net hospitals that serve large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Lawmakers use estimates of tax revenues that are produced periodically by a panel of state economists. But the most-recent estimates of general revenue — the most important source of tax dollars for the state — were released Jan. 15, the day after the legislative session started.
The coronavirus, however, had not spread across the globe in mid-January or been found in Florida and other parts of the United States. Florida on Friday night reported its first two deaths from the disease, which started in China.
Though the virus is pummeling the stock market and causing fears across the country, it remains unclear how widespread it will be in Florida.
Delegal said he was unconcerned about the virus itself.
“I’m no epidemiologist,” he said, “but I think it’s much ado about nothing.”