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Florida faces further budget cuts

Last year, the state of Florida suffered through a round of austere budgets cuts, which largely fell on state health programs and education. Now, the News Service of Florida is reporting that this upcoming budget will also face a “significant” revenue shortfall — requiring the state to cut spending once more.

The News Service of Florida reports:

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, said Wednesday that earlier projections of general-revenue growth this year and during the 2012-13 fiscal year will drop “fairly significantly.’’

That means more difficult budget choices for lawmakers when they start the 2012 legislative session in January — though Baker said things won’t be as bad as during this spring’s session, when lawmakers faced a $3.6 billion shortfall.

“I believe that you will be looking at another tight session,’’ she said during a presentation to the state’s Low Income Pool Council, a group that works on Medicaid-related funding issues.

Analysts, including Baker and representatives of the governor’s office, House and Senate, are scheduled to meet Oct. 11 to revise general-revenue estimates. Those estimates play a crucial role because lawmakers use them as a basis for knowing how much money will be available to spend.

Earlier projections said general revenue would increase $1.2 billion, or 5.5 percent, this fiscal year and $1.7 billion, or 7.1 percent, during 2012-13. That helped lead to a recent report indicating the state would be able to meet expected needs in 2012-13, with nearly $274 million left over.

But Baker told the council Wednesday that forecasts have changed as the state and nation have gone through a turbulent economic period in August and September.

Public health spending, namely for women and children, took a big hit this past year. Groups that provide prenatal care and testing for babies, for example, had their budgets cut dramatically.

Public education also saw big reductions. Early learning programs such as after-school care, in particular, are facing problems due to a reduced state budget.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently included Florida in a list of states that made “unnecessarily harmful” budget cuts this past year. Economists have also said that deep budget cuts in states such as Florida are “a big part of why the economy is back at risk.”

Despite the continuing decline in state revenues due to the state’s sputtering economy, Gov. Rick Scott is still looking to further reduce state revenues by eliminating business taxes. Yesterday, Scott made an appearance on Morning Joe, in which he described his plan to lower business taxes.

“We have a low business tax that I am getting rid of,” he said. “I am phasing that out. So, people know that we are controlling the size of our government.”

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