TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As Florida's cities grapple with twin crises of soaring emergency spending and plummeting revenues, many local leaders are warning their governments could be forced to declare bankruptcy without an infusion of federal aid.
Here's five questions asked and answered about why this is happening, what city and county officials are calling for, and what happens next.
1. What are cities spending more on?
The coronavirus crisis, while global in scope, is being felt most profoundly at the local level.
First responders are working extra hours rushing COVID-19 patients to hospitals, small businesses are pleading for temporary property tax relief and local grants, and food distribution programs are being implemented to help laid off Floridians who have yet to receive unemployment benefits.
Local governments are footing the immediate bill for all of these urgent needs.
2. What's happened to their revenue?
Not only has the crisis decimated Florida's bread-and-butter tourism industry, but stay-at-home orders have suppressed local spending by residents, causing local sales tax revenues to crater.
Secondary revenue sources, including parking fines and building permit fees, have also largely dried up.
3. What do local leaders want from the federal government?
Cash assistance, as soon as possible.
In a conference call with reporters this week, city commissioners and mayors from across the state complained aid to local governments was largely left out of the CARES act.
Just one Florida city, Jacksonville, is eligible for CARES act funding because its population is greater than 500,000.
"All this funding is coming through our reserves," said Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez. "We're depleting our reserves as it continues to move forward, and if we don't get the assistance that we need from the federal government, we're in big trouble."
4. What do congressional lawmakers say?
U.S. House Democrats are currently crafting a package of aid to state and local governments they say will total $500 million.
While such a package would pass the House, however, the Republican-controlled Senate could pose a significant hurdle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spoken dismissively of aid to cities as akin to bailing out poorly-managed enterprises.
That sentiment is shared by Florida's junior senator, Rick Scott, even though many of his state's cities are clamoring for help.
5. What happens next?
The local leaders plan to continue their public pressure campaign to convince Congress to approve a municipal aid package. The next two weeks, they say, will likely be a make-or-break period.