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Finding Enough Money Could Be State Lawmakers' First Challenge

State Sen. Janet Cruz on a webinar
Tampa Tiger Bay Club
State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, was one of four panelists

Several Tampa Bay area lawmakers talked about their priorities for the upcoming session Friday at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club. Just finding enough money to pay for them could be their first challenge.

The state is facing a $2.7 billion shortfall this year, aggravated by business shutdowns during the pandemic. State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, says she'll try to find alternative sources of money.

"My priority will be to make sure that services that have been available to those in Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay, to make sure that those services don't suffer, because that seems to be the area that takes the biggest hit," she said.

Cruz is supporting a bill that would levy a sales tax on internet sales done from out-of-state companies. The bill's sponsor, Republican Joe Gruters of Sarasota, estimates it could raise more than $1 billion in additional revenue. Florida is one of only two states that don't levy such a tax.

How to pay for all the projects being drawn up by lawmakers could be a daunting task.

Plant City Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure is vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He told the Tampa Tiger Bay Club that some of those pet projects might have to take a back seat.

"I personally believe that it's going to be about a one year, one and a half year true budget problem," he said. "And I think if that's the case, we should look really hard in the mirror and say, you know, guys, we're going to take a two-year pause on some of these projects, fund education, fund health care, but some of these one-off projects that we would do during the high times, we're just going to have to postpone."

The other guests were State Sen. Danny Burgess, R, Pasco County, and State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D, Hillsborough County.

The other topics discussed included increasing teacher pay and retaining public school teachers. the impact of charter schools on public school funding; and a bill championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which would limit the rights to publicly protest. Burgess said he supports that bill.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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