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Florida Lawmakers Have Less Money To Spend This Year

Amid an ongoing tug-of-war over tax cuts and spending, Florida legislators learned Tuesday that they are going to have less money to spend in the coming year than they were planning on.

The changes — as measured in a nearly $80 billion budget — are not significant. But the drop represents another hurdle for Gov. Rick Scott and his ongoing push to get the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to cut taxes by $1 billion.

State economists drew up new forecasts that show the state's main budget account will only grow 2.1 percent during the fiscal year that ends in June. Those forecasts estimate growth of 4.4 percent for the budget year that runs into 2017.

These new estimates mean that the state will have nearly $400 million less to spend.

"The revenue-estimating conference results remind us that we continue to be in recovery, but we are certainly still bouncing back from the unprecedented recession," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said in a statement.

The slight decrease of tax dollars in the latest budget projection is largely attributable to a decline in the amount of income taxes collected from corporations as well as concerns that the drag on international economies would affect how much money Florida businesses would earn in the coming year. Florida's main budget account relies primarily on the state's sales tax, but it also includes corporate income taxes as well as real estate taxes and taxes on insurance premiums.

Back in September, economists predicted an overall budget surplus of $635 million, but it was understood that part of that money would be used to increase spending on schools and health care.

Scott has been arguing for weeks that his proposed $1 billion tax cut package, which is aimed primarily at businesses, would help with the state's economic recovery. But he was already running into some resistance from skeptical legislators even before the latest round of estimates.

The Scott administration insisted on Tuesday that there was still enough money to pay for his tax cuts.

Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, noted for example, that the state would have extra money to spend if it approved a new gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Schutz also contended that revenue estimates may wind up lower than actual tax collections.

Senate President Andy Gardiner reacted cautiously to the news, saying legislators have to figure out whether the new numbers are a temporary setback or evidence of a long-term downward trend.

"Our goal in drafting the Senate budget is to prioritize funding to care for the most vulnerable and other programmatic structural needs of our state," Gardiner said in a statement. "We are also working to strike a balance that reconciles our desire to enhance broad-based tax relief, economic development and other pro-growth policies with our responsibility to set aside ample reserves that allow our state to respond to the potential for continued instability in other economies."