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Lawmakers See Different Budget Numbers

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – House Speaker Larry Cretul says he expects when revenue estimates are released Tuesday the state will be facing a budget shortfall between one and three billion dollars. James Call reports remarks by Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater about budget cuts are at odds with Governor Crist's plan to increase spending.

State economists meet Tuesday and will project how much money the Legislature will have to spend for a fiscal year beginning in July. Lawmakers appear resigned that the state has no money and are preparing for a fourth year of budget cutting. The current spending plan is $66-billion. In his opening day remarks, Senate President Jeff Atwater said Floridians expect the state to do what the recession has forced tax payers to do.

"Floridians are letting go of what was once desired because they only have enough to pay for what is truly required."

Both Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul talk like they are preparing to wrestle again with a multi-billion dollar gap between incoming revenue and the amount needed to run a state of nineteen-million people. However, Governor Charlie Crist's budget advisor sees things differently.

"The good news is, for the first time in four years the amount of general revenue collections is expected to increase beginning in the current fiscal year."

Jerry McDaniel explained to a Senate committee how Crist plans to increase spending by $2.7-billion. It appears the recession ended in January and all indicators are pointing up.

"The 11-12 fiscal year, the projection at the moment is that Florida returns to normal or accelerated growth rates from what we've seen."

His final budget proposal is the first one in which Crist has recommended a spending increase. The lame duck governor is candidate for the U.S. Senate. Crist is arguing a different set of facts than Atwater and Cretul. Listen while he and a senate ally close an almost $3-billion budget hole.

"I think we have an opportunity to get the Race to the Top funds. That could be as much as a billion dollars more. In addition, Congress is working on legislation to help us with medical costs, and that could be as much as a billion dollars in addition to that."

Senator Mike Fasano chairs the transportation and economic development committee. He was upbeat after a February meeting.

"There's more doc stamps going to be generated in the next fiscal year and more doc stamps in the present fiscal year than we expected, almost $200-million more than we expected in the state budget. Gasoline tax revenue is up higher than expected. Look, and there is also another thing that stands out there. We have close to if not more than $400-million that sits in a trust fund that has been generated by the Seminole Indians through the compact that Governor Crist agreed to."

Crist and his allies say you add all that together and you will come up with a balanced budget. The budget process begins in the House, and Speaker Larry Cretul staked out his position on opening day.

"I want to be very clear about this. We will not play accounting games like they do in other Capitols. We will balance our budget with the dollars we have, not the ones that may possibly arrive at some point in the future."

Tuesday's revenue estimating conference will produce the numbers lawmakers will use to write the state budget. The constitution requires a balanced spending plan. The state's fiscal year begins July first.