Thursday, December 11, 2008

We’re Broke

Florida’s budget deficit hits $2.3 billion.

The grim financial picture was laid out in detail during a rare pre-session meeting of the full Senate called by Senate President Jeff Atwater, who told the lawmakers that the state is running out of time and money.

Atwater told legislators that they would have to come back next week and prepare for a special lawmaking session soon to figure out ways to balance the budget by cutting spending and raiding savings accounts. He said fee and tax increases will likely be discussed fully in the regular spring legislative session.


Unmentioned in the presentation: state economists’ findings last week that statewide property values are forecast to plummet by a total of $266 billion — an 11 percent decrease — next year. Virtually all tax collections are falling, from sales to corporate income taxes.

If property-tax rates hold the same next year, that could cost schools a total of $780 million statewide. The potential hit to Miami-Dade and Broward county schools: $151 million and $96 million, respectively. The deepening deficit all but ensures some type of fee or tax increase soon, and it complicates efforts to provide the basics of government. Up to 147,000 state workers could face two-week furloughs for a savings of up to $300 million. Parts of prison yards are already being converted into tent cities. And advocates are bracing for big cuts to Medicaid, the costly program for poor children, the elderly and the catastrophically sick.

Here’s an idea: the Florida lottery was set up to fund education. Re-write the lottery legislation so that all the money collected in ticket sales supplements, not supplants, the current funding. That was the original intent. People will raise a stink over a .01% increase in property taxes, but they’ll crawl ten miles over broken glass to buy a scratch ‘n’ win ticket. Go figure.