Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been crossing the state this past week, vowing at campaign stops that if he’s re-elected he will enact another $1 billion in tax cuts over the next two years.
Scott has said he can enact the tax cuts as well as boost spending on education and pay for new projects to help the environment because the state has a budget surplus.
But a new forecast released late Wednesday raises questions about whether or not there will be enough money to do everything Scott, or even rival Charlie Crist, is promising to voters.
The annual forecast, which is required by the state constitution and drawn up by state economists and staff from the Florida Legislature, predicts Florida will bring in enough tax money in 2015 to meet its spending needs for schools and health care. That’s because the state’s economy continues to gradually recover from the depths of the Great Recession.
The new forecast shows Florida would have a projected surplus of $336 million in fiscal year 2015-16 even after meeting current enrollment needs for schools and health care programs such as Medicaid and setting aside $1 billion in reserves. This year, the state’s overall budget is $77 billion. This surplus, however, also assumes that local property taxes will be increased by nearly $400 million to pay for additional school spending.
Scott says if he’s re-elected he wants to increase overall school spending by $700 million. He is also pledging to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and spend millions more on environmental programs.
Greg Blair, a spokesman for Scott’s re-election campaign, maintained that there will be enough money for the Republican incumbent to meet his promises.
“After he wins re-election, Governor Scott will present his budget in January,” Blair said. “It will be balanced and it will include all of his priorities.”
When he campaigned back in 2010 Scott promised to hold education harmless while also pursuing large tax cuts if he were elected. But when he got into office, however, Scott recommended cutting spending for schools. Scott justified it at the time by saying he never promised to replace federal stimulus funding that the schools had received.
Crist, the Democrat challenging Scott in this year’s election, has also promised to boost school spending to “pre-recession levels” although he has released few details.
A legislative panel is expected to discuss and vote on the new budget forecast next week which examines projected tax collections and spending for the next three years. This year’s forecast marks the fourth one in a row that is projecting a budget surplus, although the size of the surplus is nowhere as large as it was last year. One reason the surplus is smaller is that Scott pushed legislators to cut revenue and taxes coming into state coffers by $500 million.