Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jan. special session will try to fill budget hole

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's legislative leaders announced Monday that they will convene an extraordinary two-week lawmaking session Jan. 5 to close the state's widening $2.3-billion budget hole.

The Republican leaders' joint announcement said legislators will focus on cutting the budget and shifting money from savings accounts and other funds, House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin and Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach said in a joint statement. Tax and fee increases, as well as ratification of the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, appear to be off the table until the regular session in March.

"Based on a careful review of the status of the 2008-09 state budget, and after consultation with Gov. Crist's office, we have concluded that it is in the best financial interests of the state" to convene a special session, Sansom and Atwater said in the statement.

Legislators had little choice. The state Constitution forbids deficits. And, after back-to-back years of budget cuts, the full Legislature must convene to make tough decisions about what programs get cut.

For months, as the deficit mounted, Sansom said lawmakers could wait until the regular session in March to close the gap. Atwater, however, warned last week that waiting could harm Florida's credit rating. And Crist, who also had wanted to postpone action, acknowledged last week that a January session might be necessary.

"The budget challenges before us are serious," Sansom and Atwater said in their statement. "We are prepared to meet those challenges. We intend to provide essential services to the citizens in a fiscally prudent way."

Florida's budget currently stands at $66.3 billion — $7.4-billion less than just two years ago. Next year, the outlook is even more bleak.

Based on forecasts of current tax collections, which have precipitously declined, state economists estimate next year's budget hole could be about $5.8-billion — that's after this January's cuts.

The state Senate projects a smaller deficit of $3.8-billion. That suggests lawmakers are ready to make deep cuts that would likely mean the elimination of health programs such as Meds AD and the Medically Needy, which respectively serve poor seniors and the catastrophically sick.

Schools also could face a huge cut next year because property values are swiftly declining. If this year's property-tax rate were held the same, schools statewide would see their spending reduced by $780-million.

"Anyone who depends on the state should be deathly afraid," said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents many local governments as well as private clients.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, said that because of the surge in holiday retail sales, state revenue is rising slightly but not enough. She said the special session needs to be a time to reconsider the state's tax system.

"Every sales tax exemption ought to be back on the table, ought to have to see the light of day, Sink said. "Somebody ought to stand up and defend why an exemption is fair and legitimate or it's not."

Jan. special session will try to fill budget hole 12/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 6:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Wildlife officers look for answers in gopher tortoise deaths while reward money piles up

    Wildlife

    The blood had already pooled when the bodies were found, bashed and beaten. One was dead. The other was still gasping, but it was too late.

    A gopher tortoise emerges from a bush to feed on vegetation on Thursday in 2016 at the Moccasin Lake Environmental Education Center in Clearwater. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is investigating the deaths of two tortoises that were beaten and their shells broken in Manatee County. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  2. Airbnb on track to shatter tax revenues brought in last year

    Business

    Airbnb has collected more than $18 million in taxes for Florida state and local governments so far this year, putting it on a fast-track to shatter its 2016 tax collection of $20 million.

    Airbnb has collected more than $18 million in taxes for Florida state and local governments so far this year, putting it on a fast-track to shatter its 2016 tax collection of $20 million.
[Bloomberg file photo]

  3. PSTA foresees no service cuts as it rolls out proposed 2018 budget

    Transportation

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will unveil the first draft of its 2018 budget at Wednesday morning's meeting of the governing board.

    A Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus leaves the terminal at  3180 Central Ave. in St Petersburg in 2014. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  4. What you need to know for Wednesday, June 28

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    St. Petersburg will finally break ground today on its long-awaited downtown Pier. [City of  St. Petersburg]
  5. USF's 'Black Pulp!' and 'Woke!' exhibits reframe African-American representation

    Visual Arts

    The concept of being "woke" is inextricably woven into the zeitgeist. To be truly woke, you have to be aware of not only current social injustices, but also the historical fight against prejudice.

    Renee Cox’s Chillin with Liberty (1998) is part of the “Black Pulp!” exhibition at the University of South Florida’s Contemporary Art Museum.