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Projected Florida Budget surplus may not be big enough to stop spending battle


TALLAHASSEE, Florida — As Florida continues to recover from the depths of the recession, the state should have a budget surplus in the coming year, but it may not be big enough to avoid yet another spending battle in the state Capitol.

That's because there may not be enough money for Gov. Rick Scott to cut taxes as deeply as he promised on the campaign trail last year. Scott vowed to cut taxes by $1 billion during the next two years.

The annual forecast released Tuesday by state economists shows that Florida is expected to bring in enough money in the coming year to meet its spending needs for schools and health care and still have some tax dollars left over.

But that forecast shows the estimated surplus will be about $635 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2016. And most of that money is a one-time windfall, so setting it aside for ongoing tax cuts could create a budget problem in future years.

Florida's overall budget this year, including a both state tax dollars and federal aid, is approximately $78 billion.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, said the surplus is large enough that legislators next year could boost school funding to record levels — and have enough left over for $250 million in tax cuts.

"Considering these projections, we will need to be extremely mindful of the impact that our recurring spending decisions will have in future years," Gardiner said in a statement.

Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature fought a protracted battle over spending this past year due to a cut in the amount of federal aid available for hospitals. The Senate pushed to accept additional federal money tied to expanding Medicaid eligibility, but the House and Scott opposed the idea. The stalemate delayed passage of a new state budget until June. As a result, some of Scott's spending priorities were pared back.

Gardiner, who works as an executive for a group of hospitals, pointed out in his statement that the state anticipates another reduction in federal hospital aid again in 2016.

While Scott hasn't announced his top priorities for next year he is likely to push for more tax cuts, including some permanent ones. That could lead to another clash between the governor and legislators.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said in a written statement he was still interested in tax cuts, but unlike Gardiner, he did not commit to a specific amount.

"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," said Crisafulli.

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