The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 23, 2014

Lawmakers jockey over budget surpluses


Caution is what led California, for example, to call a special legislative session beginning Thursday to discuss enhancing the state’s rainy day fund.

“We simply must prevent the massive deficits of the last decade and we can only do that by paying down our debts and creating a solid rainy day fund,” Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said.

Californians are scheduled to vote on a rainy day fund proposal on the November ballot, but Brown wants to make changes. Brown said the ballot measure does not address the volatility of the revenue stream in the state, does not provide a reserve for schools and limits the state’s ability to pay down long-term liabilities.

The volatility of revenue streams is on many states’ minds, according to NASBO’s Sigritz.

But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from scrambling to get funding for pet projects.

In Florida, for example, the House and Senate each have approved budgets that would spend some of the state’s $1.2 billion surplus on promoting tourism — an economic mainstay for the vacation mecca. The House version of the budget included $71.3 million for “VisitFlorida,” the state’s tourism promotion entity. The Senate budget gave the agency $75 million. Both proposals are less than the $100 million Republican Gov. Rick Scott proposed, but still a big boost.

“We are seeing signs of economic recovery,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Seth McKeel, a Republican. The funding for tourism will certainly be included in the final budget at some level, he said. “We’re sorting out the details.”

As for the rest of the surplus, Florida lawmakers are jockeying for dollars for a variety of projects. An analysis by The Associated Press found that legislators were seeking money for everything from gun ranges and a military museum to a sexual abstinence course for teenagers. The paper found $10 million for SkyRise Miami, a building that would be the city’s tallest, some $500,000 for a livestock pavilion in Ocala and a request to move a lighthouse at Cape San Blas in the Panhandle.

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