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Florida will have $223 million extra to spend next year

Lawmakers praise surplus but tax watch groups say extra funds come at cost

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s economy is booming and that means the state will have more money to spend next year. But economic watchdog groups aren’t so optimistic.

Unemployment is down, job growth is above the national average and the population is growing, but the best news --as far as lawmakers are concerned --is that the state will have $223 million extra to spend next year.

“Things are really moving in the right direction. Florida's on a roll,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley (R) Fleming Island.

The projected surplus is a huge increase over a $1.1 billion budget shortfall that had been predicted last year. 

But Florida TaxWatch says in order for the surplus to exist, $392 million has to come out of trust funds designated to fund programs like affordable housing.

“When you have money that you set aside for a mortgage and you say no I don't want that, I'm going to use that money to buy beer, to buy wine, to buy party supplies you're not meeting your mortgage obligation,” said Florida TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro.

Lawmakers have spent trust funds for years and their attitude doesn’t seem to be changing.

“Trust funds are revenues,” said Bradley.

Some economic watchdogs accept that the state will have more money, but don’t believe it’s enough to cover unmet needs in areas like education, affordable housing and healthcare.

“Forty-four percent to 45 percent of households in Florida are struggling to make ends meet. So good news that there's more revenue than they thought they'd have; incorrect to call it a surplus and think that it should be plowed back into meeting needs,” said  Karen Woodall, Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Historically, lawmakers have used surpluses to justify tax cuts.

There are plenty of uncertainties that could have major impacts on revenue projections, including three constitutional amendments on the November ballot dealing with taxes, and the possibility of Democrats taking the House or Senate, or even the Governor’s Mansion.