The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference is a group of experts, part of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. As their website says: [The] EDR is a research arm of the Legislature principally concerned with forecasting economic and social trends that affect policy making, revenues, and appropriations.
The Conference meets on a regular basis to review how Florida’s economy is doing, to estimate the amount of revenue Florida will have in a given fiscal year. This past week, the conference met to revue Florida’s General Revenue – funds that can be used by the Legislature for any purpose. The Palm Beach Post reported:
State economists Thursday made only modest changes to their revenue forecast for the upcoming budget year, dashing hopes that an improving economy might ease a $2 billion shortfall facing Florida lawmakers.
Lawmakers were handed an outlook that promises $26.1 million more than anticipated for the 2012-13 budget. But the uptick — while welcomed by legislative leaders — still means that Florida will be staring at its sixth straight year with a budget gap.
With the Legislature opening this week, the Revenue Estimating Conference met to revise its forecast from October. That outlook revealed the budget trench — deep, but still better than last year’s almost $4 billion shortfall, which forced wholesale spending cuts for schools, health programs and social services.
The next meeting will be in May and Florida’s fiscal year starts July 1st, and during that time there may be additional growth in Florida’s economy. This means that the May estimate of General Revenue could be more, which means the shortfall could be reduced further – every little bit means the Legislature doesn’t have to cut as deep.
So given that reality, many State Senators are urging a delay in passing the budget. The Miami Herald reports:
With updated revenue numbers that offered no relief from deep budget cuts, a bi-partisan majority of the Florida Senate wants to cut short the regular session in February and come back later in the spring when lawmakers hope to have a rosier revenue forecast that will avoid some of the $2 billion in projected cuts.
Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming Democratic Leader Chris Smith have circulated a petition to present to the Senate president, and have gathered a majority of Senate signatures for the effort in the face of strong resistance from the House, Gaetz told the Herald/Times.
Gaetz wants to avoid a special session so is calling for a legislative “hiatus” in February that would allow lawmakers to pause their work and come back to finish within the 60-day time limit.
Ah, but as Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. The House is not convinced there is a need to wait. According to the Orlando Sentinel, House Speaker Dean Cannon believes the work can be done during the current session:
“What’s the problem with doing what the constitution tells us to do, when the constitution tells us to do it?” Cannon told the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board on Friday.
The state’s economists made a minor, $27 million revision to their forecast Thursday and economist Amy Baker said afterward there was little data indicating the picture would markedly improve in coming months.
“No one has yet to make an argument why the data will be any different,” Cannon said. “Why not do our work on time? Why not make the tough choices while we’re here?”
“I think that’s an internal Senate discussion,” he added. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The Florida Constitution provides only two things the Legislature HAS to do. Every ten years, it has to redraw the boundaries of Florida’s legislative and Congressional districts. And every year it has to pass a budget. Will the Legislature delay it’s obligations in 2012? Stay tuned…