BudgetWatch: Despite budget surplus, lawmakers will face touch choices in 2015
Florida lawmakers are expected to have a small budget surplus when they come to Tallahassee in 2015. State economists have predicted that funding a continuation budget next year will leave $336.2 million in available General Revenue funds. This is the fourth surplus in four years, despite being less than half of the surplus in fiscal year 2013-14.
"More Floridians are working and paying their taxes, which has enabled our government to receive a budget surplus for the past four years," said Dominic M. Calabro. "However, even with a small surplus, it is crucial that lawmakers spend the hard-earned money of Florida taxpayers as carefully as they do for their own families."
The surplus is the money remaining after the Legislature funds last year's recurring appropriations, as well as the "critical needs" and "high priority needs" that comprise the continuation budget, as defined by the Long Range Financial Outlook. Critical needs are items such as growing student enrollment and increasing Medicaid caseloads. High priority needs include per student funding increases and state employee compensation.
The small surplus allows for only minimal increases in funding for existing appropriations or creating new initiatives. It will also affect the opportunity of the Legislature to provide tax cuts to Floridians.
"The $336 million surplus needs to be put into context," said Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Tax Research for Florida TaxWatch. "It is only 1.1 percent of projected General Revenue spending. It is also based on leaving only $1 billion in reserves, much smaller than what recent legislatures have left. The budget process will again be very competitive and it is our hope that each project will be thoroughly vetted by the full Legislature."
The Legislature could increase the surplus by adopting money saving policies during the 2015 Session. Florida TaxWatch and the TaxWatch Center for Government Efficiency provides many options for government cost savings each year. More than 55 percent of last year's recommendations were implemented by the 2014 Legislature.
"Florida has the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands more dollars through cost savings implementation, which would help put more money in the pockets of Floridians, or allow Florida to provide a higher level of service to its citizens," added Calabro.
Florida TaxWatch is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan research institute that over its 34-year history has become widely recognized as the watchdog of citizens' hard-earned tax dollars. Its mission is to provide the citizens of Florida and public officials with high quality, independent research and education on government revenues, expenditures, taxation, public policies and programs and to increase the productivity and accountability of Florida state and local government. Its support comes from homeowners and retirees, small and large businesses, philanthropic foundations, and professional associations. On the web at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org.