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Florida’s revenue picture improves a little — but not enough to really matter

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The Legislature will have $271 million more than it expected to spend this year, but close to 90 percent of the new money is a one-shot deal, and won’t help budget writers with ongoing demands upon a state budget projected at close to $83 billion.

State economists arrived at their new forecast during a revenue estimating conference Friday.

Total general revenues will near $32.4 billion, representing dependable flows of money to pay for most of the state’s needs, not counting taxes pledged to projects like housing and roads and federal contributions.

Amy Baker, director of the state Office of Demographic and Economic Research, said that, for all practical purposes, not much has changed.

“They’re going to end up maybe a little bit better than what we were contemplating in September,” she told reporters. “But it’s not materially different.”

Much of the new money — $226 million — represents unspent cash left over from the current budget year. The Legislature can use it for one-time projects — perhaps one of Gov. Rick Scott’s sales tax holidays for veterans, outdoorsmen, or school children. But it won’t support ongoing state needs.

“Since the last forecast was adopted, total collections have been running slightly over estimate; however, more than half the reported gain year-to-year is attributable to one-time adjustments and technical issues that do not alter the underlying long-term forecast,” conference participants said in a printed summary.

Sales taxes, comprising the bulk of general revenues, “saw percentage changes that round to zero in each year,” the summary reports.

Meanwhile, the state faces escalating demand for Medicaid and K-12 classroom dollars.

The revised forecast for the 2018-19 budget year were revised upward by $68 million, to $32.2 billion. The 2019-20 number grew by $148 million, to $33.6 billion.

The state will collect $69 million more than had been expected in corporate income taxes, reflecting healthy national profit growth. Still, corporate tax refunds have lagged behind expectations, so the bottom line is about $91 million short of earlier expectations.

Insurance premium taxes have been coming in more slowly than expected. The conference did not account for any changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Record tourist traffic has helped to offset a sluggish construction industry.

“That we’re not taking away money is terrific for them,” Baker said of lawmakers. “Any money we add helps ease the picture.”

House leaders, complaining of escalating spending over the years, were worried about the prospect of more or less flat revenues during the new budget year. So they began looking for places to cut.

House Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts. He ordered the budget subcommittees to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon.

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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