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  1. Florida Politics

Slowing growth of Florida's economy may limit state spending

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's economy continues to grow, but state economists concluded on Monday that there are signs of weakness in spending that could limit how much money legislators would have to spend next year.

The new forecasts show that economists expect the state's main budget account to grow 3.6 percent during the fiscal year that ends next June. They are then predicting growth as high as 4.6 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year. These are smaller than forecasts adopted earlier this year.

If those forecasts hold, then legislators will likely have a small budget surplus when they meet next spring, but not one that would make a lot of money available for new spending.

Incoming Senate president Joe Negron has already announced his plans to boost spending on state universities. The Stuart Republican also wants to set aside money to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee as part of a proposal to battle algae blooms along the coast.

"It's going to be tight," said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Baker said there was no one factor to blame for the revised forecasts. But she cited Britain's vote to leave the European Union as affecting economic forecasts and said it was expected to curtail international tourism. Home sales also aren't quite as strong as economists had predicted earlier this year.

The health of Florida's economy deeply affects how much money legislators have to pay for health care and education since Florida's main tax source is a 6-percent sales tax.

After trimming their forecasts the new estimates show that legislators would have nearly $1.7 billion available next year. But that amount includes $400 million that the state received for economic damages related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Most of the settlement money is supposed to go eight counties most affected by the spill.

Lawmakers have also traditionally set aside $1 billion for reserves, meaning that the total left for new spending would be roughly $450 million. This year's overall state budget is slightly more than $82 billion.

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