Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Is Dependent Funding That's Iffy; Stimulus Money Might Not Be Available; Fallout from Gulf Not Accounted for Yet

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Is Dependent Funding That's Iffy; Stimulus Money Might Not Be Available; Fallout from Gulf Not Accounted for Yet

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - For the state budget, it might be all downhill from here.

The $70 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which starts Thursday, relies in part on billions of dollars of federal stimulus money that might not be available next year. It also doesn't account for the potential sales and property tax fallout from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or other financial challenges that could squeeze the budget lawmakers will wrestle with after this year's elections.

"There's going to be a lot of very difficult decisions that are going to need to be made," said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, who is the vice chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.

In all, the state's revenues could fall as much as $6 billion short of funding "critical needs," that is, the natural growth in state programs as well as other high-priority items. One advocacy group calls the possible shortcoming a "perfect storm."

To some extent, the normal pressures on the budget are still to blame, from education funding to the ballooning spending on Medicaid.

"The first thing that's going to be difficult is trying to constrain the cost and rise of Medicaid," said Rep. Bill Proctor, the St. Augustine Republican who chairs the committee that oversees higher education spending and served on a panel that reviewed potential Medicaid reforms.

But Proctor said that curtailing future spending on the health-care program is unlikely to have any short-term effects that lawmakers can count on in the budget for the next fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the oil spill is targeting two major sources of income for the state: property taxes on coastal real estate, some of which is funneled into the state's main formula for funding local schools, and sales taxes driven by tourism, which is expected to take a major hit as crude washes up on Florida's beaches. In the current budget, lawmakers patched a hole in the local property taxes used in the education formula.

"I don't know whether we can do that again," Proctor said.

Federal stimulus funds, which have plugged large budget holes for two years, will be gone. …

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