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House budget chairman starts looking for programs to cut

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

House Appropriations Committee Chair Carlos Trujillo promised Tuesday to get to work this year on attacking budget deficits that loom during the next two years.

Trujillo directed committee members to begin scrutinizing state spending and looking for programs to trim or cut.

At the same time, he reiterated the House leadership’s determination to look for tax cuts, including to local property taxes.

“The House is very interested in that,” he said of cutting local property taxes for schools, with the state providing money to keep schools operating. “It’ll be a real tax cut to all Floridian across the entire state.”

State government revenues are projected to remain essentially flat during the 2017-18 fiscal year, beginning July 1. But state economists project deficits of $1.3 billion the year after that, and of $1.9 billion during the subsequent year.

Trujillo’ counterpart in the Senate, Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, has said he favors letting school districts capture tax revenues derived not from increased rates but from rising property values — rather than using state money in a “buy back,” as the House proposes.

Both Trujillo and Latvala favored spending at least $300 million of the $400 million Florida expects to collect in Deepwater Horizon disaster damages in the counties most affected.

Trujillo, a Republican from Miami, said any policy differences with the Senate or Gov. Rick Scott would be subject to negotiations.

“At some point, there’s compromise in any negotiation,” Trujillo said. “I don’t think this will be any different.”

Of “member projects” — prizes legislators seek for local constituents — he said: “Every single one of those projects will be scrutinized. If there’s not a true state need, or if the money wasn’t properly used, or the money is kind of obsolete for state purposes, there’s no case to be made.”

Given what Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are saying as the Affordable Care Act, Trujillo is prepared for changes to Medicaid. “But it’s something that won’t affect this fiscal year,” he said — and maybe not even the 2018-19 fiscal year.

He expressed willingness to scrutinize tax cuts passed in recent years but didn’t envision raising taxes.

“We have a commitment to not raise taxes,” he said. “But, at the same time, as chairman of the committee, I think every member should have the right to express their concerns. Those concerns will be vetted with the committee, and the committee ultimately will make a determination.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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