The Florida Legislature may have nearly $142 million more to spend next year than previously expected, but that won’t save lawmakers from difficult choices during the spring legislative session.
The revenue forecast for the fiscal year ending in June could run $119.3 million ahead of the previous forecast in September, according to preliminary numbers approved Monday by Florida’s Revenue Estimating Conference.
The conference estimated that revenues would run $22.6 million ahead of earlier forecasts during the 2017-18 fiscal year, beginning July 1.
But within the context of this year’s $82.3 billion state budget for 2016-17, that amounts to a “very minor adjustment,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
“It helps. It’s positive,” Baker said. But “we’re pretty much on forecast. We’re not really changing the trajectory.”
What new money is available the Legislature likely will spend during fiscal year 2017-18, she said.
The forecasts suggested 4 percent growth for the state economy through June 2018.
In September, estimates showed Florida with a scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue for 2017-18, and deficits in later years. Within context, again, that meant “we were pretty much breaking even,” Baker said.
As of Monday, the current year estimate exceeded the year before by nearly $1.3 billion, or 4 percent. The estimate for next fiscal year was $1.26 billion, or 4.3 percent, over this year.
The big decisions likely will include the required local effort for county property taxes for schools, she said. Will legislators require county school officials to roll back property tax rates to keep spending level, or allow them to keep any extra money?
Drags on the state’s economy include declining levels of tourism by Canadians and other overseas visitors, reflecting the strong dollar; and increasing school enrollment. On the other hand, Medicare spending appeared to be declining, Baker said.
Additionally, the state saw a $50 million hole in revenues during November; it was not clear to forecasters whether this reflected businesses that closed as Hurricane Matthew raked the Florida coast.
Sales tax receipts grew by $71.7 million this year and were projected to grow by $52.9 million next year — “relatively small” amounts, according to a report issued late Monday.
The conference estimated documentary stamp receipts downward by $38.7 million this year and $72.2 million next year., chiefly because of weaker than expected housing construction and existing home sales.