Okay, not in the actual couch cushions, but the sunshine state’s budget forecast is looking pretty bright.
At a hearing yesterday, the Florida legislature’s economic forecasting office presented a draft (note: draft!) report that projected an $846 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that starts next July. Unsurprisingly, state lawmakers are already jockeying over what to do with it, reports NPR-affiliate WFCU.
Already there’s a public debate about how much to save, how much to invest and how much to return to the taxpayers. Governor Rick Scott is calling for a package of $500 million in tax and fee cuts. And Senate budget chief Joe Negron has filed a bill that would roll back vehicle-registration fees that were increased in 2009 to help close a state budget shortfall.
The projection was part of a draft long-range outlook from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research and it came with a warning worth noting:
[T]wo factors should be considered by the Legislature: (1) 53 percent, or $449 million, of the $845.7 million is nonrecurring, and (2) the section of the Outlook entitled “Significant Risks to the Forecast” describes a number of issues that have the potential to alter key assumptions and, therefore, the level of revenues and/or expenditures used to build the Outlook.
In other words, more than half of the surplus is just a one-time boost, so spendthrifts and permanent tax-cutters be warned. And those risk factors that could alter the economic outlook? They include unpredictable weather (read: hurricanes) and changes to notoriously hard-to-predict and fickle health-care costs and spending.
The report credits the legislature for the surplus: It took steps to close projected budget gaps in the 2011 and 2012 sessions. And revenues nationwide have been improving during the slow recovery. All told, 30 states ended fiscal 2013 with surpluses, according to the National Association of Budget Officers’ spring fiscal survey of the states. Ten states ended the year in the red — spending outpaced revenue — and 10 reported on-target spending and revenue.
The Florida legislature could commit to as much as $713.3 million of recurring spending without causing a budget gap in the following fiscal year, the report found. But if the state legislature decides to spend the whole $846 million, Florida would enter fiscal 2015, which starts July 1, with a $265 million deficit.
Here’s a map of how states ended fiscal 2013. (States in black had surpluses, those in red had deficits. The rest were on target.)