Florida's budget woes to worsen

11/19/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Florida’s budget woes are expected to get worse. Later this week, state forecasters are expected to announced that the current budget will fall short by as much as $2 billion.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, has said that the state should hold a Special Session to deal with the worsening crises. New House Speaker Ray Sansome says the state can avoid the cost of a special session by tapping state reserves and dedicating the first two weeks of the regular session to finding deeper spending cuts.

But Florida Democratic State Senator Dave Aronberg says time is of the essence.

Earlier this year, the state avoided major budget reductions to the Medically Needy and Medicaid Programs by taking over $100 million from the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund. That’s money backed by a 1997 settlement with the tobacco industry. But the man who helped Florida get those dollars in a landmark lawsuit against the tobaaco industry a decade ago is critical of those raids.

Tampa Attorney Steve Yarrid spoke on WMNF’s Radioactivity program today with Rob Lorei.

The Tallahassee Democrat reports that the troubles on Wall Street have depleted the Chiles Fund by more than $500 million since earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac poll released this morning revealed somewhat contradictory information about the average Florida citizen. The poll found Florida voters “suprisingly upbeat” about their financial condition, with a majority saying their family finances being excellent or good. However, 59 percent say they are worse off than a year ago.

The poll also found that by a 55 to 30 percent margin, voters say they want to cut services rather than raise taxes to balance the budget. But voters don't like the across-the-board approach. By a 73 – 21 percent margin, voters prefer those cuts on a case-by-case basis.

Re-elected Democratic Sen. Dave Aronson said the state has to find ways to raise revenues that avoid budget cuts. Aronberg has been fighting against a proposed 50-year lease on Alligator Alley to foreign investors who would pay the state about $500 million in exchange for collecting an escalating schedule of tolls on the 78-mile artery between South Florida's east and west coasts. Aronberg says the state definitely needs to look at more creative ways of raising revenues, but that isn’t one of them.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, today told the St. Petersburg Times that two new possible places to raise revenues would be to collect sales taxes on items sold over the Internet and expansion of gaming in areas where the state currently allows it.

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