House subcommittees charged with crafting portions of the state budget are trying to figure out how to make major cuts.
The House appropriations committee is in the midst of what it calls a budget exercise. State economists are forecasting shortfalls in the next two years, and GOP leaders are hoping to address the issue with cuts. House Budget chief Carlos Trujillo has asked each of his subcommittees to come up with a list of potential reductions. In the Agriculture and Natural Resources subcommittee, Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) takes aim at water projects.
“Over the past 13 years, 26 percent of the projects we decide to fund are vetoed,” She explains. “No other line item in the budget routinely is cut at this rate.”
Raschein suggests focusing on projects that are regional in scope rather than local.
“Perhaps for this year alone we should reduce our expenditures in this line item and only consider those projects that are born of regional cooperation and collaboration,” she says.
She also notes there may be funds in escrow for previous years’ projects, and budgeters might be able to pull those dollars back into state coffers.
Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Avon Park) takes a similar approach in the Healthcare subcommittee—tallying off a list of potential cuts, “Item number three is a county specific effort for a statewide problem. Number four also is a county specific approach. Number five no longer exists.”
Across 22 possible cuts Pigman comes up with slightly more than $11 million in reductions at the Department of Health.
Other lawmakers focus on long-term vacancies at state agencies, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R-The Villages) proposes liquidating vacant facilities.
“Let’s get rid of them. Let’s put them on the block,” He argues. “And there’s a probably an opportunity for a two-for here: there are counties and cities that are looking for space and instead of building them we might be able to make a contribution there while saving ourselves some money. Let’s take a look at that.”
But Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura) rejects the exercise.
“I think we made a huge mistake in 2015 cutting that communications services tax,” Geller says, “to give 61 cents a month worth of tax relief that doesn’t help anybody and blew a $450 million hole in our budget.”
The tax, levied on monthly cell phone and cable bills, made up a large part of Governor Rick Scott’s tax cut package that year. Meanwhile state economists say the gloomy fiscal outlook comes, at least in part, from repeatedly cutting taxes. Scott is asking for another $618 million in cuts this year.
It should go without saying, but under current GOP leadership, the chance of raising taxes on anything is vanishingly small.