Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Florida’s economy is staring at a potential budget shortfall of about $2.7 billion for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. 

In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis has instituted a six percent annual budget holdback for executive branch agencies, which includes prosecutors’ and defenders’ offices, according to the Florida Bar News.

What You Need To Know

  • State Attorney Andrew Warren addressed his budget concerns on Friday

  • He urged state lawmakers not to cut his office’s budget

  • The lawmakers disagree on the issue

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren says that’s going too far.

At a meeting of the Hillsborough County legislative delegation on Friday, he told state lawmakers that he inherited a $2 million shortfall when he took office four years ago, and he has had to work hard to balance his budget. Now, with additional shortfalls because of COVID-19, he said he couldn’t cut any further without eliminating attorneys from his office. So, he put the onus on the delegation – asking them outright how they would explain to the public what crimes he won’t be able to prosecute if he makes those cuts (which he said the Legislature has informed him could go as high as 10%).

“If we’re going to cut our budget this much, we’re going to need some guidance on what types of crimes you no longer want us to prosecute,” Warren said. “Because that way when a victim and community members come and say ‘how come you’re not prosecuting these crimes?’ We’re all on the same page.”

But Warren’s complaints failed to move Lithia-area based Republican state Rep. Mike Beltran, a lawyer himself, who said he respectfully disagreed that the Legislature hadn’t provided adequate funding to state prosecutor offices.

“I’ll take a 10% budget cut if his office will take a 10% budget cut,” Beltran said, adding that state legislators “are the worst paid of any public servant in Hillsborough.” 

State lawmakers make $29,679 annually in what is considered a part-time job.

“I’ll take it if everyone else will,” Beltran said. “So let me know.”

That comment sparked a response from two Democratic state representatives.

“This is our second job. This is our part-time job. We have other forms of income,” said North Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell. “I just want us to be very thoughtful and sensitive as we are listening to the needs of the community and listening to these agencies that have real problems.”

Newly-elected Pinellas County Rep. Michele Rayner said her first job was working in Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt’s office, so she could relate to being a new lawyer working on a state salary with student loans to pay off. 

“Keep in mind, while it’s easy to talk about numbers, there are real people being impacted by budget cuts when they come,” she said. 

The budget cuts that Beltran said he is concerned about are the ones creating “docket congestion” in Hillsborough County. He noted that the Florida Supreme Court had previously certified that the county would be able to hire four additional judges, but the Legislature declined to fund those positions in the most recent budget. That decision “has real consequences for the people,” Beltran said.