With the 2012 legislative session pushed up two months to accommodate an expected fight over redrawing political boundaries, lawmakers will likely get another piece of contentious news this week that will not make their job any easier.
A panel of economists meets Tuesday to determine the state’s revenue picture in what will be a clearer signal of how difficult the Legislature’s budget writing process will be.
Last week, lawmakers got a glimpse of the picture, with House and Senate budget committees hearing from staff members who are expecting the state to fall up to $2.3 billion short. With the economic recovery continuing its toddler-like pace, tax collections are expected again to fall below earlier expectations.
House Appropriations Committee members heard Thursday that staff is expecting a budget deficit between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion. If the deficit is dealt with entirely with budget cuts, the state’s general revenue budget would decrease by 5.1 percent to 10 percent next year.
The projections do not assume how lawmakers would make up the deficit. In years past, they have dealt with budget deficits with a combination of budget cuts, the use of non-recurring revenue and trust fund sweeps.
Meanwhile, costs continue to rise. Senate leaders overseeing the state health care budget say Medicaid could cost roughly $300 million more than expected for the current fiscal year. Further, they will need an infusion of nearly $1 billion next year just to meet growing expenses.
“We’re not that optimistic at all (about the budget),’’ Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island told reporters last week. “We’re all hopeful that the economy will turn around. But at this point, we don’t see it.’’
The budget crunch may provide another chance for gambling advocates to push their case. They were aided last week by an appellate court ruling that a 2004 constitutional amendment allowing gaming in Broward and Miami-Dade counties does not prevent lawmakers from expanding gambling elsewhere.
The opinion, which affirmed a lower court ruling, is still available for appeal, but backers of expanding gambling to other parts of the state are hopeful the Florida Supreme Court would either not hear the case of reaffirm the two lower court opinions.
The ruling made it clear state lawmakers are within their authority to expand gambling where they see fit, beyond the seven venues originally approved by Broward and Miami-Dade voters following the 2004 change to the constitution. Bills are being filed to allow for resort-like gambling venues in South Florida. The ruling could also help pari-mutuels in other parts of the state to again seek permission to add slot machines and other games.
“(The constitution) provides no indication that Florida voters intended to forever prohibit the Legislature from exercising its authority to expand slot machine gaming beyond those facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties meeting the specified criteria,” Judge Marguerite Davis wrote.
“Nor is there any indication that Florida voters intended to grant the seven entities who met the criteria a constitutionally protected monopoly over slot machine gaming in the state.”
Email Michael Peltier at firstname.lastname@example.org.