Tough Decisions Coming in State, Local Budgets

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Byline: Ronald L. Littlepage

Bad times are here and more are on the way.

The same bad economy that's hurting your pocketbook is playing havoc with the state's budget, and a further strain on local government budgets can't be far behind.

As you may recall, legislators struggled during the spring legislative session to put together a $66 billion budget, which was $6 billion below the previous year.

Senate President Jeff Atwater summoned senators to Tallahassee last week and told them even that reduced budget no longer holds because of shrinking state revenues.

Here are warnings gleaned from news reports last week:

- Atwater told senators the budget deficit for the current fiscal year has jumped to $2.3 billion.

- The Legislature will have to meet soon, probably after the first of the year, to find ways to balance the current budget.

- Things don't look any better for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, with an almost $4 billion gap currently predicted.

With reduced revenues - sales taxes, corporate taxes and gas taxes are all down - costs are going up.

- The current deficit jumped by $150 million in the last few weeks alone when 100,000 more people were added to the state's Medicaid rolls because of the bad economy.

- In the next budget year, Medicaid costs could increase by almost $350 million.

- Crime is up and the state's prisons are at capacity. Building even one typical prison to handle the growing number of inmates would cost $100 million.

- There are more demands on the state's courts and prosecutors and less money for them to operate.

The Republican dominated Legislature is loathe to raise taxes to cut into the deficit, although a $1 increase in the state cigarette tax is being bandied about. …