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Budget deficit could grow by more than $300 million

Friday, March 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

State economists are hashing out their new estimate of how much less money lawmakers have to spend this year.

Their last general revenue estimate projected the state would collect about $3.6 billion less this year in taxes and fees than last. But this morning’s estimates range from an additional $332.4 million drop – bringing the deficit to $3.9 billion – to a gain of $47.4 million that would decrease the spending gap to closer to $3.5 billion.

The three groups of economists representing the legislature’s Bureau of Economic and Demographic Research, Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Revenue will crunch numbers throughout the day.

EDR’s initial $332.4 million in additional lost income is the highest. Scott’s office projects an extra $109.7 million drop. And the department’s was the rosiest – a gain of $47.4 million.

The average of the three – $131.6 million – would bump up the deficit to $3.75 billion.

Senate approves TABOR-type cap on government spending

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would cap government spending, a variation of the “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, Colorado instituted in 1992 but repealed in 2005.

The so-called “Smart Cap” measure, sponsored by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, limits future state spending to growth based on population and cost of living and constrains borrowing. Voters in 20 other states have rejected similar measures.

Opponents of the proposed amendment argued that the state constitution already curbs state spending by requiring a balanced budget and that the spending caps could harm the state’s most vulnerable in economic downturns like Florida is now experiencing. Lawmakers are struggling to slash at least $3.62 billion from last year’s budget.

The Colorado measure also capped local government spending increases, something not included in Bogdanoff’s proposal, and resulted in a dramatic decline in education and social services funding.

“We already have a revenue limit in Florida. We have repealed as much as $19 billion in taxes over the last 12 years. We simply don’t need an even more restrictive cap in the state constitution,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston argued. “If you think we’ve had hard choices to make…over the past few years,
TABOR will only make it worse.”

But Bogdanoff insisted her bill is necessary to rein lawmakers in.

“We already have a cap in the constitution. But it’s not working. We need one that’s going to work better,” Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said. “This is not Colorado. We have learned from the mistakes of other states.
We didn’t want to repeat what they had done…If government takes less, the people have more. and I don’t know about you but I’m okay with that.”

The measure passed with a 27-13 vote. Two Republicans, Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Nancy Detert of Venice, voted against it; one Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, voted in favor.

The proposal is one of Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ top priorities. Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, is running for U.S. Senate, and, if approved by the House, could join him on the November 2012 ballot if he wins what is expected to be a crowded GOP primary.

The House has not yet voted on the bill (SB 958). It would require 60 percent approval by voters to get into the state constitution if it makes it on the ballot.

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