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In Tallahassee today, state's economic forecast gets clearer

TALLAHASSEE — Many eyes in the Capitol will be focused Tuesday on an obscure team of economists who meet periodically to update Florida's fiscal outlook.

Known formally as the Revenue Estimating Conference, the forecasters will review an array of economic trends to fine-tune a consensus estimate of how much money the state can expect to take in this year from a multitude of tax sources.

The bottom-line estimate is critical: The House and Senate use it to assemble the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Forecasters look at sales of goods ranging from cigarettes to cars to lottery tickets; revenue from taxes on corporate income and property transactions; and the flow of money from a variety of fees on services such as driver's licenses and car tags.

It's most likely the forecasters will increase the revenue projection by no more than a couple hundred million dollars — enough to suggest slight improvement in the state's precarious fiscal condition, but not enough to make any substantive difference in a budget shortfall now estimated at $3.2 billion.

The most recent month-to-month revenue collections, for January, showed Florida took in $52 million more than projected for the month and $70 million over estimate for the year to date.

"I hope they estimate well," Gov. Charlie Crist said. "I think things are going to continue to improve."

If the revenue forecast doesn't show much improvement, it will provide additional ammunition for fiscal conservatives such as House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, to rein in spending as much as possible.

"We're all hoping to see some improvement," Cretul said. "But we'll just have to wait."

Also, Tuesday, the Cabinet meets at 9 a.m. and is expected to approve a new rule to require homeowners to submit photographic evidence of hurricane mitigation features in order to receive discounts on insurance policies. The policy is expected to help eliminate fraudulent discounts identified on forms used by home inspectors.

Times/Herald staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

In Tallahassee today, state's economic forecast gets clearer 03/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 7:38am]

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