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Revenue estimate tweaked as budget work nears

“We have to be fiscally responsible, but at the same time we’re looking at all the factors.”

As Florida lawmakers get ready to hammer out a new state budget, they received a final forecast Thursday of how much general revenue will be available to pay for programs such as schools, health care and prisons.

Bottom line, not much changed.

Economists scoured data Thursday and estimated that lawmakers will have about $7.4 million less in general revenue than forecast in December. But that is just a fraction of the $33.5 billion in general revenue that the state is projected to bring in during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The economists huddle periodically throughout the year to update estimates of general revenue, which plays a crucial role in the budget. Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican from Bradenton, said Thursday he expects the Senate to start going through the budget process early next week before the full Appropriations Committee approves an initial 2019-2020 spending plan.

Galvano, speaking to reporters before the economists released the updated forecast, said he anticipated the estimate “may come down a little bit.”

“That’s what we’re hearing, which makes it a little more difficult going forward,” Galvano said. “But once we get those (numbers), we’ll be able to give what we call rolling allocations to the (chairs of appropriations subcommittees). … They’re going to be putting their budgets together early next week, so they’re going to have to have their allocations by the beginning of the week.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has released a $91.3 billion budget proposal, which includes general revenue and numerous other sources of money, including federal funds.

House Speaker José Oliva, however, has signaled that he wants a smaller budget than the one DeSantis proposed. Ultimately, House and Senate leaders will have to negotiate a spending plan before the scheduled May 3 end of the legislative session.

“I think that (Oliva’s view on the budget) is consistent with the way the speaker has approached the budget process,” Galvano said. “As long as I’ve known him, he is a fiscal conservative and that’s important. We have to be fiscally responsible, but at the same time we’re looking at all the factors, including what unanticipated needs we have to address. For example, in this budget period we have to address the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. I understand where he’s coming from. I recognize why he wants to go there. But we also have to make sure we’re covering impacts from unexpected areas.”

The $33.5 billion in general revenue that the state is projected to bring in next year is a $600 million increase from the current year, according to the revised estimates. But that represents a slowdown in the growth of general revenue, which is derived from such things as sales taxes. The current year’s budget is projected to include $1.7 billion more in general revenue than during the prior year.

Also, while the latest estimate only tweaked the bottom line by $7.4 million, the way that number was reached also reflects slower growth in the upcoming year.

The forecast showed the state is now expected to bring in $201.3 million more than had been projected during the current fiscal year. But the forecast also reduced an estimate of revenue for the 2019-2020 fiscal year by $208.7 million.

Combining the $201.3 million increase this year with the $208.7 million reduction for next year leads to the overall $7.4 million drop in projected revenues.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said she and the other economists saw a slightly weaker national and state economic forecast than when they last revised general-revenue estimates in December. She said the effects of the weaker forecast will hit harder during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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