A look at the key issues that will shape the next session, which starts in March.
Besides facing a $2.6-billion budget shortfall, Florida lawmakers will have a full plate of issues next month. [Photo: AP]
|Advocacy: Legislative Preview
Following four straight years of negative or flat growth in general fund revenue, the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research is predicting 6.6% growth in revenue for the 2010-11 budget year. That limited growth in tax receipts, however, will not be enough to cover expected increases in Medicaid and other expenses, leaving budget writers struggling to balance the needs of services such as education, healthcare, public safety and transportation.
As they look for ways to streamline the budget, lawmakers also plan to put state agencies under the microscope.
To aid in that process, Senate President Jeff Atwater has created a Senate Budget Office that will conduct independent analyses of state government agency operations and report its findings to the Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means. The group will examine any overlapping agency jurisdictions and functions, the financial structure of agencies, sources and uses of revenue and will look at expenditure patterns and whether performance measures exist and are being met.
In a related move, Florida TaxWatch and other pro-business groups and leaders have been working with lawmakers to come up with a list of $3 billion worth of potential cost savings in the way the state does business. Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro says his group’s “Government Cost Savings Task Force” is looking for targeted cuts that would not impair critical core services of the government or hurt senior citizens.
Democrats, meanwhile, say they plan to fight any attempts to tap into state trust funds to balance the budget. Rep. Adam Fetterman (D-Port St. Lucie) is leading that charge with House Joint Resolution 389, which proposes an amendment to the constitution that would require a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to expend money from a state trust fund for any purpose other than the one that was intended when the trust fund was created.
Fetterman says his bill will help force future legislatures to keep their word. “My idea is simple in that it says when we make a promise to taxpayers, we keep that promise,” he stated in a release.
Budget fights aside, hot button issues such as oil drilling off the coast and expanded gambling within the state will also be high on the Legislature’s agenda as lawmakers look for ways to increase revenue without raising taxes. Following is a look at how those, and other key issues, might play out in the upcoming legislative session.