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Anticipation grows over gov's budget proposal

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By James Call

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Tallahassee, FL – Gov. Rick Scott has been traveling the state discussing his upcoming budget
recommendations to the Legislature. The state is facing a shortfall that may be as much as 4.6 billion dollars for next year's budget. Scott wants to include another two billion dollars in tax cuts. James Call reports he has offered few details about how he'll do it.

Governor Rick Scott has rolled out bits and pieces of his budget recommendations. He said he will proposed five billion dollars in spending cuts and propose reducing property and corporate taxes. The governor makes recommendations while the Legislature writes the state budget. Leading lawmakers say they are willing to listen to the governor's proposal but concede it will be difficult to close a shortfall and cut taxes. Scott said he is confident he will deliver on his promise to reduce government spending and put more money in the hands of Floridians and businesses.

"I'm going to put out a budget that shows them how to do it. And I'm going to go do what I do everyday. I'm going to talk to people around the state and explain why I believe in it. And I believe we'll get those reductions."

The current budget is 70.4 billion dollars. Economists place a shortfall in tax and fee collections at 3.6 billion and growing. They will make their final estimate in March and that will be determine how much money lawmakers will have to spend to pay for services like education, transportation, health care and law enforcement. In addition to the estimated shortfall, Scott is expected to propose almost two billion dollars in tax cuts. Senate President Mike Haridopolos has spent his Tallahassee career supporting tax cuts but this year, his focus is on spending cuts.

"The first priority I have as president of the senate is that we will reduce spending by 3.62 billion dollars. That is our first step. If there are other opportunities to reduce taxes on corporations or on property owners we will look at that option. But the first thing I would like the governor, the speaker and I and most important the members of the respective bodies to agree upon is 3.6 billion in cuts."

In late January the Senate budget chief added another potential billion dollars to the shortfall when he said he wants to increase Florida's working capital fund to protect the state's credit rating. The governor said his opening bid in the upcoming budget negotiations will be a five billion dollar spending cut. As of yet, he has offered few details. He is scheduled to release his budget recommendation Monday afternoon. Until then, here is how he is handling budget questions.

"I'm very cautious about how much bet the state has. And what obligation the state has. So on Monday we'll announce our budget you will see what kind of reserves we have in there."

When asked about plans to save money by consolidating state agencies and streamlining regulations,

"sure, part of. What'll we'll put out the details. But basically it's just going through trying to put different pieces of our government where it should be and also looking at exactly what DCA ought to do but it's just going program by program but on Monday we'll have all that listed."

Or about a proposal to cut pension benefits to state employees, teachers and local government workers while requiring them to contribute five percent of their salaries...

"We'll put all that out on Monday."

Or for details about benchmarks for new procedures that promise to save two billion dollars,

"Yea, I understand the question it will be a little bit of both. Some of it will be that we cut out some of the things we are doing. That I don't think we should be doing. Some of it will be moving things around that should allow us to do things less expensively those would probably be the two big things. You'll see in the budget how we do it. It'll be. I'm sorry. I kept ignoring you."

"Is there anything you can tell us about your budget recommendation?"

"Be patient. Be patient."

Chief Financial officer Jeff Atwater is a former president of the Florida Senate. He served 10 years in the Florida Legislature and participated in budget negotiations at the highest level. He expressed the kind of anticipation one would expect from a banker when talking about money dilemmas. Here's his response when asked how the governor can produce a budget that cuts taxes, closes a shortfall and meets critical state needs.

"He has laid out his thoughts as a campaigner seeking this office and I think it was always thoughtful and rational about that. Sure, we're in a difficult time but I think if he has some ideas that he can laid before us, that we can reduce further costs and keep money in the hands of hardworking Floridians then why wouldn't we all enthusiastically want to see the presentation."

Governor Scott's budget presentation will take place Monday afternoon at a rally with tea party organizers in Lake County.