Revenue estimate could help settle session ending date

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State revenue forecasters will meet Thursday to come up with a new estimate that could shape both the size of the budget for the coming fiscal year and the length of the legislative session, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are still divided over whether the length of the session is a closed matter. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has repeatedly and publicly raised questions about whether lawmakers should rely on January prognostications about the economy or wait a while for more information.

But House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, has pushed back against the idea of extending the session or holding a special session later in the year — saying that the economic indicators aren’t likely to move significantly and lawmakers should bite the bullet on a budget shortfall expected to be close to $2 billion.

“It’s my intention this House work with our colleagues in the Senate to complete the budget during the scheduled 60 days of regular session,” Cannon said in his opening day speech. It was seen as an unmistakable shot at Haridopolos’ plans.

Senate leaders haven’t specified what they would need to see out of the revenue projections to pass a budget on time.

But Haridopolos is not the only senator taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to base the budget on the early estimates or ask for another round closer to when the forecast is usually put together, sometime in March. Many point to a swing between a three-year outlook over the summer, which projected a surplus, to an estimate in fall that projected the shortfall.

“So the question will be, how confident are we that the economy’s on a steady enough course over the coming months that we can really rely on these numbers that are coming in earlier than we would traditionally use?” said Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

And while Cannon has suggested that the Senate is waiting to see if the numbers get rosier, Haridopolos said that’s not the case.

“We’re not holding out thinking we’re going to have so much more money,” he said. “There’s as much a concern that we might have considerably less.”

But Jerry McDaniel, Gov. Rick Scott’s budget director, told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that such a change was unlikely.

“We don’t believe that the revenue forecast will change materially from what you see here,” he said.

Haridopolos said it’s not like the Senate is shutting down the budget process for now.

“Because, regardless of what the allocations will be at the end, we’re still looking for every dollar of savings we can find so that we can meet the priorities of both the governor, the House — and of course our priorities as well,” he said.

And the Senate president said he doesn’t want to spend any extra time in Tallahassee unless it’s necessary.

“My fervent wish is to get out of here in 60 days,” he said, “but we’re going to do it right.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.