An analysis of the transparency and accountability of the budget process
The 2019 Budget Turkey Watch Report: An Analysis of the Transparency and Accountability of the Budget Process is the result of an annual independent review of Florida’s new budget by Florida TaxWatch. The report started in 1983, and having been published annually since 1986, promotes additional oversight and integrity in the state’s budgeting process based on the principle that: because money appropriated by the Legislature belongs to the taxpayers of Florida, the process must be transparent and accountable, and every appropriation should receive deliberation and public debate. The budget review identifies appropriations that circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting.
The 2019 Florida Legislative Session is over. Lawmakers approved 197 bills this year, setting a record for the fewest bills passed (at least since 2001, and likely long before that). The amount of bills passed has been steadily declining. This is probably a good thing, but it also reflects the use of “trains,” strike-all amendments, and adding brand new issues to bills at the last minute, things that certainly occurred this year. Still, there was some good legislation that passed and, as always, some missed opportunities and some great ideas that became less so as the process wore on.
On Thursday, May 2, the Senate took up the tax package passed by the House (HB 7123) and adopted a strike-all amendment that put the Senate package on the bill. It kept many of the provisions (with some changes), added some new provisions, and removed one controversial provision, and changed another.
There is an affordable housing crisis in Florida. It is truly a nationwide problem, but it is especially acute in the Sunshine State. The availability of affordable housing for lower-income families in Florida is lower than almost all other states, and most of those at the lower end of the income scale that do have places to live are overburdened with housing costs they cannot afford.
DIFFERENCES IN EDUCATION, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND MORE MUST BE WORKED OUT
At the halfway mark of the 2019 Legislative Session, the House and Senate approved their proposed state budgets for FY2019-20. Both spending plans exceed current spending—the Senate by more than $1.0 billion and the House by $588.4 million. The House increases current General Revenue (GR) spending by $609.5 million (1.9 percent), while the Senate increases GR by $841.2 million (2.6 percent).
HURRICANE MICHAEL BUDGET AMENDMENTS NOW TOTAL $443 MILLION; MORE THAN $200 MILLION IN CORPORATE INCOME TAXES COULD BE REFUNDED
The eagerly awaited final General Revenue (GR) estimates to be used for the next state budget are out. Legislators and appropriations lobbyists were hoping for an infusion of cash to ease a tight budget year, made even tighter by hurricane-related costs and the competing costly priorities of the Governor and legislative leaders. Well, that did not happen. The estimates did not change much, decreasing by a total of $7.4 million.
Less than a week after the Senate Appropriations Committee heard a gloomy presentation on the outlook for the upcoming budget, the General Revenue Estimating Conference met on December 18 and increased the revenue projections by $461.5 million in FY2018-19 and another $380.5 million in FY2019-20. This means the 2019 Legislature will have an estimated $842 million more in General Revenue (GR) collections for the next state budget than was previously expected.
Florida’s state forecasters estimate that the 2019 Legislature will have a $223.4 million budget surplus when it puts together the state’s new spending plan for FY 2019-20. However, this assumes the Legislature will transfer nearly $400 million from trust funds—money earmarked by law for specific uses—into the General Revenue (GR) Fund.
Florida’s General Revenue (GR) Estimating Conference met on August 16 and forecast that the state would collect $13.1 million less than expected in FY2018-19 and $19.5 million less in FY2019-20. This reduces the estimated GR that the Legislature will have for the next state budget by $32.6 million, a change of less than one-tenth of 1 percent.
Actual net GR collections for the fiscal year that that just ended exceeded the last estimate (February 2018, adjusted for legislative changes) by $205.2 million (0.66 percent). This will be added to the unobligated FY2018-19 GR (cash reserve) balance of $1.026 billion to be carried forward to the next budget year (FY2019-20). These numbers, along with the current cycle of the state’s Estimating Conferences, can begin to define the fiscal outlook for the next state budget that will be developed by the 2019 Legislature.