State economists boost revenue estimates for new budget year

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State economists gave lawmakers a little more money to spend, after making some modest tax revenue adjustments for the budget year beginning July 1.

Analysts heightened projections Wednesday by $150 million over the next 16 months, with $26 million of that amount coming in by July 1, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

For 2014-2015, the state now expects to take in $1.4 billion more than the current year revenues.

As consumer spending improves, sales taxes also grow modestly, according to chief economist Amy Baker. In addition, forecasters took a little money off expected rallies in real estate-related taxes as interest rates creep up and federal programs directed at homeowners who have “underwater” mortgages begins to level off.

“Pretty much everyone who was going to refinance has now refinanced,” Baker added.

Extra money carried over from the current budget, and other expenses facing the state, such as a boost in school enrollment, could give lawmakers a surplus of nearly $1.2 billion as the time comes to write budgets.  

However, before anyone thinks of a spending spree, much of that money is already earmarked. Gov. Rick Scott and state leaders pledge to lower taxes by $500 million in the 2014 election-year session.

“It’s going to allow us to continue to look for ways to reduce the tax burden on the citizens of the state, invest in things like education and hopefully have a very productive session,” House Speaker Will Weatherford told the News Service of Florida, leaving little doubt where the extra money will go.

“Obviously, a lot of it’s going to be spent on tax cuts,” Weatherford added.

Lawmakers say the modest increase would not drastically alter their plans.

“It’s a little bit more, but I don’t know that if that substantially changes the game,” said House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel.

The House plans to have a budget ready in about a month. McKeel’s committee should recommend a spending framework March 26, for voting by the entire House on April 3. But they still have to reach a compromise with the Senate.

Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron was pragmatic.

“Today’s estimate confirms Florida’s economy is growing as businesses and families across our state continue to recover from the impacts of a lengthy recession,” the Stuart Republican said in a statement. “While our economy is still improving, the consensus estimate and corresponding economic analysis also give us reason to be cautious as we craft Florida’s budget for the next fiscal year.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.