Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Finds $1 Billion Windfall

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Finds $1 Billion Windfall

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE --- State officials, already starting to write next year's budget, will have nearly $1 billion more to spend, thanks to new estimates from state economists.

In days past, the windfall might have provoked a feeding frenzy by legislators hoping to cash in on projects for their districts, but the current mood in Tallahassee is not to go overboard.

Lawmakers and budget officials predict the state will save some of the money, give some back through tax cuts and use much of the remainder to help cover the soaring cost of prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients.

There should be enough left over in the $50 billion budget for some of the things Gov. Jeb Bush wants to do to improve low-performing schools as part of his plan to increase minority enrollment in universities without using racial preferences.

Tax revenues have repeatedly outstripped forecasts in recent years, thanks to the stronger-than-expected economy.

With coffers overflowing this year, lawmakers not only cut taxes and increased spending on education and social services but salted the budget with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pet projects, colloquially known as "turkeys."

Bush vetoed many of them and is working with legislative leaders to come up with guidelines that will keep such projects from creeping into the budget in the future.

Senate Fiscal Resource Chairman Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, is trying to pour a little cold water on enthusiasm about the new money, since a dip in the economy could make it disappear overnight.

Horne said he wants more tax relief, but he does not think the cuts will be as great as the Legislature granted this year.

Horne said Bush has been talking about putting more money into the rainy-day reserve as a hedge against the recession that is bound to come someday.

"Just because we have the money doesn't mean that we have to spend it," said Donna Arduin, Bush's budget director. …

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