Florida lawmakers are facing a difficult budget year. But state’s Government Efficiency Task Force says it has a plan that could help the legislature find an extra two billion dollars.
Florida’s revenue estimates are looking grim, with the state’s forecasters expecting a nearly flat budget this year and significant shortfalls in the next few years. Amy Baker is Florida’s Chief Economist.
“Our budget is growing faster than the underlying revenue pieces. So, what our suggestion has been is we need to start thinking about year two and year three and building the budget for year one,” Baker says.
But lawmakers have already begun pushing plans that will require more spending. Senate President Joe Negron, for example, wants more money for higher education, and more money for a project to help improve the water quality in the Indian River Lagoon. But Senate budgeting Chairman Jack Latvala says that means finding the funds.
“To do any increases we’re going to have to find some areas to cut and I think that’s a certainty. And it’s just my luck to be a chairman in a year like that,” Latvala says.
But that’s where Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro comes in. He says he has a plan that could help free up a few dollars. He took part in the recent Government Efficiency Taskforce. It’s a group that meets once every four years and is directed by the state constitution to look for efficiencies. Calabro says the group has developed 29 recommendations that could save the state 2-billion dollars annually.
“Fifteen of the 29 recommendations will not require any new money to save money. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Fifteen of the recommendations will not require any new money and that would save upwards of $633-million,” Calabro says.
Some of the proposed changes include consolidating state agencies into fewer physical locations, while sharing assets such as vehicles between departments, and directing new public employees to join a 401K style defined contribution retirement plan, rather than a pension plan. Calabro says another proposal would reduce the length of time some non-violent offenders stay in prison.
“There are some offenders that are actually going to be worse offenders by staying in prison without the rehabilitation, without the transition. So we way, look, let’s make sure that the sentence fits the crime and that it will actually be beneficial to the victims,” Calabro says.
If some of those plans sound familiar, it’s no surprise, Calabro says TaxWatch has pitched similar solutions before.
“We want action. We want the efficiencies accomplished. We don’t care if they’re something new, something old. The whole idea is what will it take to get action, and if they’ve been vetted before there’s a greater likelihood that they’ve been heard, people are familiar with them, it seems less risky to implement them, but what’s been lacking is necessity,” Calabro says.
But this year Calabro says lawmakers are likely to be more motivated.
“The budget is such that necessity is the mother of invention. And we think we can use this budget crisis or budget challenge to implement hundreds of millions 2-billion dollars annually this year,” Calabro says.
Another suggestion the group is pushing is new legislation that would require lawmakers to identify efficiencies within the budget each year as part of the legislature’s budgeting process.