Florida economists continue to predict growth

Dania Maxwell/Staff
Many were present to watch on as Hertz breaks ground on its new headquarters in Estero on Tuesday, November 26, 2013. The global headquarters is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 41 and Williams Road. The project is expected to create about 400 jobs to be filled locally and 300 positions to be filled by Hertz employees relocating to Estero.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Many were present to watch on as Hertz breaks ground on its new headquarters in Estero on Tuesday, November 26, 2013. The global headquarters is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 41 and Williams Road. The project is expected to create about 400 jobs to be filled locally and 300 positions to be filled by Hertz employees relocating to Estero.

Florida economists are projecting steady growth in the state's economy over the next few years, giving Gov. Rick Scott more leeway to push for tax cuts next year.

Economists meeting Friday concluded that the state's main tax collections would grow by 3.8 percent over the current fiscal year and then another 4.9 percent by the middle of 2015, bringing the total to $27.5 billion. Florida's largest tax source is the state's sales tax.

This was a slightly better forecast than one drawn up by economists over the summer.

This means that Scott and state legislators next spring could have a budget surplus in excess of $1 billion even after paying for enrollment growth for schools and programs such as Medicaid.

Scott, who is running for re-election next year, has already said he wants to cut taxes and fees in 2014 by $500 million. Leaders in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature say they support tax cuts, but have not agreed to an exact amount yet.

The annual session starts in March. The final budget that will be adopted will cover spending from July 1 to June 30.

Earlier this year legislators adopted a $74.1 billion budget that included significant spending increases for the first time since the start of the Great Recession. The overall budget total is larger than the tax collection forecast because of federal grants and spending that comes from other taxes such as gas taxes.

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and House budget chief, said he was encouraged by the latest forecast which was about $321 million higher than the one drawn up in August.

"While I am pleased that it appears we will once again see a budget surplus in the upcoming fiscal year, the Florida House will still work to develop a fiscally responsible budget that maximizes every dollar," McKeel said in a statement.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was thankful for the continued good economic news, but warned that part of the latest forecast is based on a projection that taxes charged on insurance premiums will grow next year as more people enroll in health insurance due to the contentious federal overhaul.

Gaetz said he was skeptical that more people would wind up with additional insurance. He also said that legislators would be cautious in their budget planning for next year.

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