Florida TaxWatch suggests COVID-inspired trims to state budget, including postponing teacher raises

Florida TaxWatch chief Dominic Calabro .Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis can absorb some of the COVID-19 shock to state tax revenues by trimming next fiscal year’s budget of local projects, reducing travel, and postponing the governor’s teacher pay raises until the pandemic subsides, a government watchdog group said Thursday.

During a virtual news conference, Florida TaxWatch also recommended boosting tax receipts through “e-fairness” legislation that would collect sales taxes on purchases from out-of-state vendors, via internet, phone, or mail.

“The virus has led to increased on-line sales and new converts may stick with remote shopping even after the pandemic,” TaxWatch said Thursday in a report.

Failure to do so, the report says, would cost at least $478 million annually.

“As we continue our battle to recover physically and financially from COVID-19, we know our state has difficult decisions ahead,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

“While Florida has strong reserves … COVID-19 has placed Florida’s economy at risk of slipping into uncertainty,” he said.

DeSantis has a little less than two weeks to sign the $93.2 billion budget or exercise his line-item veto before it’s scheduled to take effect on July 1. He has made clear that large cuts are in store. Calabro estimated the TaxWatch recommendations could save $6 billion.

The new report follows the release last week of TaxWatch’s annual “Budget Turkeys report,” which cited 180 projects slipped into the budget to benefit state House and Senate members’ districts but that did not follow standard budget processes.

Thursday’s report argued that “every legislative district would be better served if the moneys appropriated for these member projects were used instead to help fund the state’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Other recommendations include removing “non-critical vacant positions” as deemed by Legislature, reducing state travel costs through use of remote meeting platforms, and postponing DeSantis’ $600 million teacher pay increases until the COVID pandemic subsides.

Other recommendations include allowing advertisements and sponsorships on “state publications, properties, and vehicles,” including public school buses an on the electronic messaging signs along highways that now show travel times, Amber Alert messages, and other emergency notifications.

The state also could save money through supervised release of elderly nonviolent prison inmates and allowing grail judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentencing.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.