Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida's estimated budget shortfall grows to $3.5 billion

TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott's campaign promise to cut property and corporate-income taxes got a little tougher Tuesday when state economists forecast that anemic tax collections could punch a $3.5 billion hole in his first proposed budget.

The big budget shortfall is at least $500 million more than recent estimates, and it could increase if Florida's economy worsens.

Cutting taxes would make the budget gap bigger. But Scott won't say just what he'll reduce in the budget — which he'll propose in February — to offset his tax cuts. Scott will be sworn in Jan. 4 as Florida's 45th governor.

When asked by reporters to provide budget-cut details and whether that will include employee layoffs, Scott repeated familiar refrains such as "streamlining government'' and ''looking at programs." He also said he "might'' privatize prisons.

Scott briefly spoke with reporters in Fort Lauderdale after the political newcomer hosted a meet-and-greet with South Florida legislators, who also tried and failed to wring specifics from the Republican.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, quizzed Scott about his plans to cut property taxes 19 percent when those taxes pay for schools, police officers and other local services.

"All the savings are at the state level," Scott said. "I'm not changing how much we send to the counties."

Scott didn't specify that his tax cut plan only targets the state-set property tax that pays for schools — at a cost of about $1 billion — and that he plans to find other state revenue sources so that the K-12 portion of the budget isn't sharply reduced.

"My goal is not to change funding for the public schools," Scott said. "My goal is to find funding at the state level."

He wouldn't identify that source of funding or say what programs would lose out as a result of shifting money from one part of the state budget to the other.

In recent weeks, state economists have estimated that, because of declines in property values, schools will receive about $150 million less statewide if tax rates remain the same. That budget hit was somewhat blunted by forecasts that class sizes wouldn't swell.

But the student population is on the rise, especially in South Florida, which is expecting about 6,000 more students from disaster-ridden Haiti.

Sales taxes make up the biggest decrease, accounting for 67 percent of the $1.2 billion in lower-than-anticipated state revenues forecast Tuesday. Corporate taxes — which Scott plans to eliminate — are also decreasing.

Overall, however, state revenues are still growing, but at a much slower rate than anticipated when economists last met in August.

"We're definitely seeing year-over-year growth," said Amy Baker, the Legislature's chief economist. "But it's very, very slow."

This economic forecast will underpin the budget Scott will propose. The economists from the governor's office, tax department and Legislature will meet again before the Legislature convenes its 60-day session in March to hammer out the final budget for the fiscal year, beginning July 1.

The top budget writers for the House and Senate are also puzzled by Scott's pledge to cut taxes in a year of big budget holes.

"I haven't heard from him how he'll do it all," state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales said, echoing his House counterpart, state Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

So far, the soft-spoken Scott has listened more than talked to legislators. From the questions Scott posed, it was clear that he wants to reform state workers' pensions and may tackle teacher tenure.

"What do you all think about employees contributing to the pension plan?" Scott asked legislators. "We are the only state in the country that state employees don't contribute (to their pensions)."

The sea of red ink increases the likelihood that Scott and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature will also fire state workers, cut pay and reduce programs like Medicaid — the biggest budget cost driver. Right now, the state budget stands at $70 billion, but $2.6 billion of that is federal stimulus money that the state won't get next year.

As of now, though, specifics remain elusive.

After Scott met with lawmakers, Waldman summed it up this way: "I walked out with no clarity on anything."

Florida's estimated budget shortfall grows to $3.5 billion 12/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 9:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.