Tax Savings Ideas
Carving Up Florida's Budget
The non-profit Florida TaxWatch helps government leaders locate savings - and it can add up.
In January, Florida had 481 people locked up in state prison for driving with a suspended license. The average sentence is 2½ years. It costs Florida $20,108 per year to keep an inmate in custody.
As drivers with suspended licenses go, these 481 aren't your garden-variety traffic offenders: They must have been convicted twice before of the offense and must have failed to pay child support, a court fine or some similar judgment. They also at some point in the past must have been convicted of a felony involving the use of force — though separate from the driving infraction.
Against a $70.5-billion state budget and a budget shortfall of $3.6 billion, saving the $9.7 million it takes to keep these drivers locked up for a year is minuscule. But in the current no-tax environment, making small-change savings add up is a big part of the game.
Finding a few million — and sometimes billions — under the state's couch cushions is a key mission of Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch. Last year, the non-profit directed a task force comprising a who's who of state business leaders, plus the two party nominees for governor, Democrat and then-state CFO Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott, to find upward of $4 billion in savings from Florida government.
"People say the low-hanging fruit is gone. We absolutely don't agree with that." — Robert E. Weissert, general counsel/vice president for research, TaxWatch [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
Those who follow state budgeting closely suggest caution when looking at the tally of potential savings, however. Legislators haven't embraced some because they view them as either impractical or politically radioactive. Additionally, some TaxWatch proposals may save money over the long haul but won't solve this year's shortfall.
Some, of course, turn out not to provide as much savings as thought.
"Like anything else, once you get into it, it's more complicated than you think," says Glenn W. Robertson, president of Glenn W. Robertson & Associates consulting firm in Tallahassee, and a former director of state planning and budgeting and director of policy and finance for three governors.
The task force's staff director, attorney Robert E. Weissert, TaxWatch's general counsel and vice president for research, says the state has saved more than $3 billion by taking recommendations from a $5-billion list TaxWatch offered for the past couple of legislative sessions. He recognizes the political difficulties facing some of the group's proposals, but with the budget deficit, "now is the time when these things are really catching people's attention. Some of these things are well past due."
» Next page: TaxWatch Arithmetic