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Florida Legislature anticipating $635 million budget surplus in 2016

Via @JeremySWallace

The Florida Legislature is anticipating a $635 million budget surplus in 2016, money that some state lawmakers are already hinting will go towards more tax cuts and education funding, among other things.

The budget projection comes just a week before legislators return to Tallahassee to begin early work in preparation for the next regular legislative session in January.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the numbers make it feasible to increase per student funding for schools to the highest level in state history.

“Additionally, balancing the cost of expected growth against our projected surplus and bolstered reserves, as a starting point, I will recommend that the Senate reinforce our commitment to broad-based tax relief for Florida’s families and businesses through a 2016 tax relief package totaling $250 million,” Gardiner said.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said the budget surplus is proof that “conservative fiscal principles are working” in the Florida Legislature, where Republicans have majorities in both chambers.

“The House will remain focused on keeping Florida the best state in the nation to create jobs, cutting taxes for hard-working Floridians, and balancing our state's budget,” Crisafulli said.

Last year, the Florida Legislature dedicated $400 million of a budget surplus to tax cuts – almost half of what Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, had requested.

But getting a budget passed became a major struggle. The Florida House adjourned suddenly in April during the annual spring Legislative session with no advanced notice and without passing a budget. That forced the House and Senate to meet again in June for a special session. Eventually the chambers passed a budget, which Scott signed into law in late June, just over a week before the state government otherwise would have been without a spending plan.

Gardiner said the long range budget projection released Tuesday shows the state will need an additional $1.6 billion to cover overall growth throughout the government. But even after that is covered by incoming revenue, the state will still have $635 million in surplus revenue.

Gardiner noted that the state will have to deal with another reduction in federal funding for reimbursing hospitals for uncompensated care. The federal government has told state officials that funding for the Low Income Pool will drop from $1 billion to $600 million. Last year the Florida Senate pushed the House to adopt a plan to take federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover more of the uninsured to compensate for the reduced LIP funding. The House refused, sparking the showdown that ultimately led to the delay in passing a state budget.