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Proposed Bar budget approved

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The Florida Bar Gold SealThe Board of Governors’ Executive Committee voted unanimously to approve a proposed $42.5 million Bar budget for FY 2020-2021.

The Executive Committee signed off on the recommended spending plan during a March 20 conference call scheduled in lieu of the Board of Governors’ March meeting, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This marks the 20th consecutive year without a fee increase.

The proposal, which will ultimately require Supreme Court approval, is posted here.

“We still have the ability to revise the budget based on member comment as well as what we see evolve in the markets based on the coronavirus,” said Budget Committee Chair-elect Melissa VanSickle.

The spending proposal for Florida Bar General Operations anticipates $42.5 million in revenues and $45.2 million in expenditures, with a $2.8 million operating deficit.

Before the Executive Committee members voted on the proposed budget, Investment Committee Chair Ian Comisky reported Florida Bar finances remain stable, despite widespread uncertainty and economic disruption linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comisky said the short-term investment fund, which supports most of the Bar’s day-to-day operations, stands at $11.4 and is forecasted to support the Bar’s critical operations until the end of June.

“We’re in very good shape for liquidity needs through the end of the fiscal year,” Comisky said.

Comisky said the fund should remain healthy into the next fiscal year, unless fee collections are significantly impacted. Historically, fee revenue has remained steady over the years, even in the harshest of economic declines, Comisky said.

The long-term portfolio is structured to help mitigate drastic market movements. The portfolio, while still experiencing a loss, has outperformed its benchmark over the last 12 months.

“This discipline has served us well,” Comisky said. “Our losses are significant, but they’re much less than the market as a whole, and the long-term account is in good shape.”

President John Stewart said he plans to call a joint Investment Committee and Budget Committee meeting before the next Board of Governors meeting, which is currently scheduled for May.

Stewart noted that like the March 20 Board of Governor’s meeting, which was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the date of the May meeting is likely to change.

“This budget, even though it would have been the same budget we would have passed two weeks ago, is still very sound,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the overall financial decline may have hurt Bar investments in the short term, but markets will eventually recover and the coronavirus outbreak will likely be a “fairly revenue-neutral event,” for the Bar.

“While we’re expecting revenues to go down, there is expected to be an equal reduction in expenses because of cancellation of events, and not having to pay for meeting-related expenses, staff travel, and program costs, and things like that,” Stewart said.

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