Fla. budget could focus on teachers & health care

Fla. budget could focus on teachers & health care

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For the first time in six years, state legislators aren’t scrambling to figure out how to plug billion dollar shortfalls in the state budget.

Florida’s economy is slowly regaining strength as the state continues to pull out of the depth of the recession.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a significant tug-of-war over the new state budget – including the fate of the state’s Medicaid program – during the upcoming 60-day legislative session, which starts Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders are already offering up dueling versions on what to do with the modest surplus that is now projected. And Senate President Don Gaetz warns that automatic budget cuts about to kick in at the federal level could send the state’s economy back into a tailspin.

“I’m not prepared to put on rose-colored glasses about the budget, and I’m certainly not prepared to talk about any extra money until we see what happens in Washington,” Gaetz said.

State economists currently project that the state’s tax collections – one sign of Florida’s economic health – will grow around 5 percent for the next two years. The latest figures show that legislators could have – including unspent money from this year – as much as $3.3 billion more in the state account that relies primarily on sales taxes.