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A rare sighting at the state Capitol: Black ink

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With Florida’s tax collections on the rise and several rounds of spending cuts having sharply shrunk services, state lawmakers should see something they haven’t eyed in more than five years:

Black ink.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legisature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, told a legislative panel Wednesday that revenue should outstrip spending next year by just over $71.3 million — even when lawmakers tuck away $1 billion in reserves.

“We are on track and things are moving as we expect them to move at this point,” Baker told the Legislative Budget Commission.

A year ago, Baker gave the panel a similar optimistic forecast – but included some cautions that ultimately came true. At the time, consumer confidence was darkening — unlike the current mood — and Florida’s revenues eventually crumbled in subsequent months.

Lawmakers entered last session with more than a $1 billion budget gap — and more cuts ensued.

Plenty of uncertainties remain, Baker said. But so far numbers show the state, “consistently in good shape.”

After cutting millions from the state budget when the recession hardened in 2007, lawmakers have dealt with shortfalls each of the past five years through program cuts and layoffs of thousands of workers across state and local governments.

The Legislature, however, has also sought to squirrel away dollars when they could – and completed the current year $69.9 billion budget with an additional $1 billion in reserves, a level that lawmakers have said they want to maintain.

Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has guided much of the budget-cutting of recent years and will leave office in November, said Baker’s report was good to hear. But he added that sizing up the state of Florida’s economy, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Economists find lawmakers a few more dollars — but not enough

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by John Kennedy

State economists found a few more dollars for lawmakers looking to close a $2 billion budget gap.

But not enough.

Revising their forecast from last October, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference agreed that tax collections have climbed $48 million more than anticipated this year — but are expected to be $25.7 billion below forecast for 2012-13. The difference means legislators will have about $23 million in extra cash to spread around in the $66-billion budget they are just beginning to cobble together for the year beginning July 1.

“Nothing dramatic happened since the fall,” said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, who is among those making Thursday’s forecast.

Rising costs and the state’s still-fragile economy have combined to leave lawmakers staring at a $2 billion shortfall next year. Still, that’s about half the hole they faced a year ago, a sign, analysts said, that Florida is slowly recovering from the recession.

Sales-tax receipts, the real driver of Florida’s budget, are up slightly. Corporate and real estate taxes also have picked up over the past year, analysts said. But signs of the troubled economy linger — with personal income down in Florida during the third quarter of 2011.

The state still has a two-year backlog of homes for sale, and the number of foreclosures in Florida continues to outstrip home sales, Baker said.


State economists to meet again next week on casino proposal

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Just how much money three new casinos might bring to the state remains unclear after state economists spent hours struggling to settle on an amount.

The state Revenue Estimating Conference, made up of economists representing the legislature, Gov. Rick Scott and state agencies, took a second swipe at an estimate on Friday but agreed to meet again next week to try to finalize the numbers.

“I think we’re getting close to getting numbers that we could all agree to and feel comfortable with that we could end up adopting next week,” the legislature’s chief economist Amy Baker told reporters late Friday. “People want to think about a couple parts some more. There’s about 16 different piece of the bill that affect revenues and state revenues in one shape or fashion. There are a lot of moving parts behind those but I think we’re getting very close to a product that we can all agree to.”

Proponents of the “destination resorts” measure, including sponsor Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, contend the casinos will bring an economic boom to the cash-strapped state. Her plan (SB 710) requires potential casino operators to spend at least $2 billion to develop and build facilities aimed at attracting high rollers from around the world.

The state economists did agree that the three casinos would bring in at least $350 million over four years in taxes, the bulk of that coming from collections related to construction and equipment. The estimators also debated how much money visitors would spend and how many new tourists the casinos might bring to Florida.

It’s official: Florida faces $2 billion budget hole

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Florida’s budget hole for next year was officially put at $2 billion Thursday — and the revised forecast from state economists also put it in the red through 2015.

The shortfalls reverse what had been an optimistic forecast delivered to lawmakersonly last month — by the same analysts. But that was before the European debt crisis deepened and sent shockwaves through consumer confidence across the nation, including the Sunshine State.

Tax collections “hit a wall,” in mid-summer, said Amy Baker, head of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Baker and other analysts told the Senate Budget Committee they have downgraded earlier state revenue forecasts by $600 million for the current year and almost $1 billion for next year. Rising program costs — especially in public schools and Medicaid — also must be layered-in, resulting in what she said would be a $2 billion shortfall facing lawmakers when they begin crafting the 2012-13 budget in January.

The Senate Budget Committee took the bad news in stride Thursday. But Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he also feared that if the economy stumbled further, tax collections wouldfall even further off projections.

“We could have more challenging numbers,” Alexander conceded, adding, “or they could be better.”

Bigger budget breach than expected

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State economists gave lawmakers the bad news this morning that Florida’s budget gap is expected to grow by as much as $1 billion.

The News Service of Florida filed this report earlier today:

Amy Baker, executive director of the Legislature’s Office of Eeconomic and Demographic Research, told the Senate budget committee that revenue estimators are likely to downgrade the state’s budget picture when they meet next Tuesday.

“We are starting to show improvement year over year,” Baker said. “It’s just not as strong as we’d hoped for.” Tax collections were $136 million short of expectations for the three months ending in October, with November’s findings still not final but on track to fall another $100 million down, Baker said.

Meanwhile, Medicaid forecasters will meet Friday and Baker warned, “the number is going to be big.” House budget staff on Tuesday told House members that the shortfall was on track to hit about $3.5 billion — up from the earlier $2.5 billion level.

Unemployment expected to hit 12 percent; House Dems dis GOP budget-cutting method

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

First, the good news: Florida’s economic woes have hit bottom, the legislature’s chief economist Amy Baker told the Senate yesterday.

Now, the bad news: The state’s unemployment rate is expected to climb to 12 percent as early as Friday when the most recent job numbers are released, Baker said.

And more bad news for lawmakers as they struggle to craft a budget with up to $3.3 billion – about 4 percent – less than they had for this year’s $66.5 billion spending plan.

Although the national recession is over, Florida’s not going to show an economic recovery for at least another year, Baker and University of Florida economist David Denslow told the Ways and Means Committee, which about 30 of the 40-member chamber attended after Senate President Jeff Atwater asked them to sit in.

“We think we’ve hit bottom and we’re going to hover around the bottom for a wile before we start picking up,” Baker said.

The economy will start picking up next spring, she said, but even with normal growth rates, the recovery is coming off a very low base level so the turn-around will be very slow.

It will be three years “before you’re going to be out of the hole on a lot of measures,” Baker said.

Read the story here.

On the other side of the fourth floor rotunda, House Democrats wrote a letter to GOP leaders saying they don’t like their approach in determining what the state’s critical needs are.

They want to look not only at expenditures but at revenues as well. (Translation: higher taxes?)

But that’s not likely to happen on the Senate side.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, told his members yesterday he “won’t extract another dollar” from Floridians.

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