Government

Florida’s Budget Hole Deepens to $3.62 Billion

Medicaid, education top targets for cuts
By: Gray Rohrer | Posted: January 13, 2011 3:55 AM

Florida’s budget deficit got a little larger Wednesday, with a state economist adjusting previous projections up slightly to $3.62 billion. And it could get larger still.

“Just kind of tuck that number in the back of your mind, because as you guys meet and make policy decisions, that number is going to be changing,” Amy Baker, chief economist for the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research, told legislators during a Budget Committee meeting.

Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, put the situation in starker terms.

“That’s before we have any real provisions for reserves, so it could be a good deal worse,” Alexander said, adding that the figure could reach as high as $4 billion.

Despite the budget hole, legislative leaders are maintaining their pledge not to resort to tax increases, and will rely solely on spending cuts to make up the shortfall.

“I’m going to do it without a tax increase,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said Wednesday.

Haridopolos was less adamant, however, about Gov. Rick Scott’s tax cut proposals, which would add to the shortfall, although he stated he was open to the governor’s ideas.

“Every tax cut must be met with appropriate spending cuts. If (Gov. Scott’s budget proposal) has tax cuts in it, I’m sure it’ll include offsetting spending cuts,” Haridopolos said.

As a candidate, Scott had pledged to corporate tax cuts and a 19 percent cut in property taxes. His budget proposal will be issued to legislators next month.

Meanwhile, legislators are looking for ways to cut spending, and have targeted Medicaid and education as prime targets. Medicaid spending has gone from taking up 19.5 percent of the state budget in fiscal 2007 to an estimated 28.9 percent in the current fiscal year.

Sen Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is leading the charge for Medicaid reform as the chairman of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. While federal spending accounts for 65 cents of every dollar spent on Medicaid in Florida, the percentage of federal funding is expected to drop to 56 cents for every dollar next year.

“It all eventually is the debt of all of us as citizens,” Negron said.

Adding to the state’s burden is the Affordable Care Act, the federal overhaul of health care, which will expand the number of Medicaid recipients in Florida beginning in 2014.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the solution out of Washington was to expand the Medicaid rolls,” Haridopolos said.

Haridopolos also indicated that spending cuts could also be part of any education reform legislation passed this year, which is likely to resemble the controversial SB 6 bill in 2010 that called for merit pay for teachers.

“I think we’re going to see an improved Senate Bill 6,” Haridopolos said, adding that he is willing to look at a proposal for voucher programs from Gov. Scott.

Ultimately, legislators are relying on the state’s economy to bounce back fully from the recession in order to alleviate the budget gap.

“We’re going to do everything we can to help the governor make Florida the best place in the country to do business. I think he wants to be known as the jobs governor,” Alexander said.

 

Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrer@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.


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pashley
5:10PM JAN 16TH 2011
Let's see, $3.62 billion in the hole and, as I type, the state is building bike paths in So. Suwannee County. Suwannee County already has many miles of paved bike paths that people don't use. I guess this is how our politicians dig us out of the hole we are in and it's going to get deeper.
Barbara Barker
9:06AM FEB 16TH 2011
The Suwannee County area is one of the last few natural areas in Florida. It attracts divers, cyclists and other eco-tourists to the area.
Keith
1:34AM JAN 15TH 2011
You can't give away valuables(free medicaid health care) without the lines getting ever longer. To cut spending, people will have to pay for their care or... as Obama said, just take two aspirins.

Also, cut the slow speed train project and apply that spending to highways.
Corbin
12:56PM JAN 16TH 2011
I hear the train will travel 150mph from the airport to Dinsey. Hope they have nascar harnesses for the passengers. There rolling the dice on the state’s economy bouncing back from the recession in order to alleviate the budget gap. All idiots...

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