Surplus Projected, but Negron Cautious
Around the State
A key legislative committee approved a report projecting an $845.7 million surplus in the budget year that begins July 1, but only after the Senate budget chief warned that new spending or tax cuts will still likely have to be offset somewhere else.
Continuing a policy from last year, Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the continuing recovery of the state's budget from the wake of the Great Recession is no reason to go on a spending binge.
His comments came as Gov. Rick Scott travels around the state to pitch a $500 million tax cut and ask Floridians which taxes and fees it should be used to cut. Negron has his own idea, filing a bill Thursday that would roll back vehicle-registration fees that were approved to close a budget shortfall in 2009. The new proposal (SB 156) updates a similar measure last year that died in part because of resistance to getting rid of a tax break benefiting insurance companies; the new proposal would jettison that, at least for now.
"But I still want to explore during session tax incentive programs that may have been great in 1983, 1986 or 2000 but have outlived their usefulness and maybe they've accomplished their objectives," Negron said.
Despite Negron's warnings about offsetting any budget changes, Scott is ultimately expected to get his tax cut through a GOP-dominated Legislature in an election year. House Majority Leader Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican slated to take over as speaker after the 2014 elections, issued a statement Thursday suggesting as much.
"Though we will continue to follow our fiscally conservative principles as we develop our budget proposal in the upcoming session, I am hopeful that these improved conditions will allow us the opportunity to provide a significant tax break for Florida families and businesses," Crisafulli said.
A spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party quickly flagged Negron's comments in an email to reporters, arguing they could foreshadow budget cuts and were "further confirmation that Rick Scott's tax plan will wind up being harmful to Florida's families."
The outlook approved Thursday by the Legislative Budget Commission was part of the state's annual budget cycle. It attempts to account for expected spending in high priority areas and likely decisions by the Legislature, such as setting aside at least $1 billion to make sure the state can cover unforeseen expenses. But it doesn't try to figure out what new programs or dramatic increases to existing programs lawmakers might approve.
The commission also approved a handful of amendments to the current spending plan, including changes to help close a $35.5 million deficit at the Department of Juvenile Justice created by a recent court ruling requiring the state to pay a larger share of the cost of locking up juvenile offenders.