State may not have enough money for Scott's plans

 

Associated Press

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.

"We know there's no question about it, it's your money, it's not government money," Scott said about his tax-cutting plans during a campaign stop held in Plant City.

But a new forecast released late Wednesday raises questions about whether 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 state's current budget is $77 billon. The new forecast projects a 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.

But that surplus appears to be smaller than what Scott is promising.

Scott says if he's re-elected he will cut taxes but also increase overall school spending by $700 million and spend tens of millions more a year 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, 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.

Scott's budget director released a memo late Thursday pointing out that the forecast assumes some types of "discretionary" spending that will be determined based on priorities set by the governor and legislators. Cynthia Kelly also noted that the forecast does not include any potential cuts from state agencies "when in fact agencies over the past three years have identified savings and will continue to do so."

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 next week is expected to discuss and vote on the new budget forecast, which examines projected tax collections and spending for the next three years. This year's forecast marks the fourth in a row to project 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.

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout

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