TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Already enjoying what is called a more than $1 billion budget surplus to appropriate during the 2014 Legislative Session, lawmakers were given another $150 million by the latest General Revenue (GR) Estimating Conference. A Budget Watch report from Florida TaxWatch for this coming fiscal year examines the latest round of estimating conferences by state economists and recommends that the Legislature still consider this a tight budget year and continue to implement cost-saving reforms such as those identified by the TaxWatch Center for Government Efficiency.
“Florida lawmakers should continue to push for opportunities to save taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars during the budgeting process, even as the budget outlook is improving after years of shortfalls brought on by the Great Recession,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog. “In order to continue on the path to financial recovery, Florida must remain prudent during its budget allocations.”
FY 2014-15 GR collections are now estimated at $27.7 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion (5.2 percent). This marks the first time the state’s GR collections are expected to exceed the $26.8 billion collected in FY 2005-06-which was the highest amount ever. Coupled with unspent funds from the current year ($2.2 billion), there will be almost $30 billion in GR available for the next budget.
Though revenue collections have increased overall, most GR sources had their estimates reduced during this week’s estimating conference. The state’s largest revenue source-the sales tax-showed solid growth but other categories-including real estate and insurance premium taxes-were scaled back, causing state economists to express caution.
The independent analysis notes that the projected surplus may be smaller than anticipated, because the original estimate assumed cash reserves of $1 billion. Legislative leaders have continued to push for larger reserves, as much as $2 billion. With at least $500 million in tax cuts and an increase in K-12 per public school-student funding, there will not be much money remaining.
“While lawmakers will have more than enough money to fund a continuation budget, there are many factors that impact the estimate of a budget surplus and most of them have changed,” said Kurt Wenner, Vice President for Tax Research. “Lawmakers should continue to examine the base budget for efficiencies and spending that may no longer be needed. Only this way will they be able to put limited funds into the areas that are important to Florida taxpayers today and tomorrow.”
Learn more about the projected surplus in the March Budget Watch.