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Hurricane Irma Pushes Budget Outlook From Bad To Worse

Nick Evans

Hurricane Irma is throwing a wrench in Florida’s budget for the coming year.  Lawmakers were already facing a daunting challenge crafting a balanced budget.

State lawmakers got the bad news weeks ago—forecasts project only about $50 million for new projects in the coming year.  Thursday state economist Amy Baker reiterated the state’s precarious situation for Senate budget drafters.

“So what we’re looking at is appropriations growth over the three year period averaging 4.9 percent per year,” she describes, “and revenue growth over the three year period averaging 3.3 percent per year.”

“So that—that’s the problem that’s why there’s a structural imbalance,” Baker says, “our budget as we’ve been growing it is projected to grow faster than what our revenue growth would give us.”

It’s the third year running of almost impossibly meager outlooks, but Baker points out her team calculated those figures before Hurricane Irma. 

“So instead of the $52 million balance you had coming out of September 15—you now are negative by $145.1 million.”

The outlook could improve somewhat based on matching funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  But committee chair, Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) admits it doesn’t look good, and he bristles somewhat at how Florida Governor Rick Scott is spending money under emergency powers.

“Well it’s a pretty dim,” Latvala says of the state’s financial prospects.  “We don’t really have any extra money, [and] we’ve had some money spent on our behalf lately that’s even making it a little tighter.”

The governor’s spending comes from reserves.  Latvala doesn’t oppose dipping into the rainy day fund after a major storm, but he questions putting money toward interest free citrus loans while opioid deaths mount.

“I asked for $20 million on an emergency basis to get us through the year,” Latvala says of the opioid crisis.

“I’m still waiting.  People are still dying.  Nobody’s dying because oranges fell off of a tree,” he says. “And so I think we need to treat the opioid crisis just like we’re treating the economic crisis from the hurricane and move on it.”

The federal government approved $27 million in emergency funds earlier this year.  That money supports medication assisted treatments like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.  Substance abuse experts say those interventions have the best chance of success. 

But some people need longer term inpatient treatment—and those federal dollars can’t be used to pay for it.  

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.