State economists came bearing gifts this week when they approved a fiscal forecast showing key revenue sources experiencing robust growth.
Projected increases in sales-tax and corporate income-tax collections, the two largest sources of state general revenue, will provide some maneuvering room for the Legislature and incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis as they work on a new budget this spring.
In contrast, Gov. Rick Scott started off his rookie year in 2011 facing revenue shortfalls and the need to preach fiscal austerity, as the state continued its recovery from the economic recession.
DeSantis should have an easier time and will likely benefit from the expected budget largesse. He faces an early February deadline for advancing his first budget proposal for the 2019 legislative session, which begins in March.
In another fiscal bonus, state analysts said this week that fewer students than expected are showing up in Florida’s kindergarten-to-high-school system. A new report projects that lawmakers will only have to accommodate just under 12,000 additional K-12 students in the coming year, which again should provide some financial relief in budget negotiations.
REV UP THE REVENUES
With the unexpected surge in tax collections, analysts on Tuesday projected a significant increase in state revenue over two years.
State revenue collections during the fiscal year that started July 1 have been running $365.2 million ahead of projections, which were last revised in August. The two largest components of that increase were $173.5 million in sales-tax collections running ahead of estimates and $126 million in additional corporate income-tax collections.
The sales tax, which generates about $26 billion a year, and the corporate income tax, which generates about $2.2 billion, are the two largest general revenue sources in the state budget. General revenue taxes are closely watched in the Capitol because they play a key role in funding schools, health programs and prisons.
Based on the tax collections, the analysts boosted their general-revenue projections by $842 million over two years, with a $461.5 million increase in 2018-2019 and a $380.5 million increase in 2019-2020.
In reading the consensus report, Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, noted the $842 million adjustment has come at the same time analysts have adopted state and national economic forecasts that show some weakening in key economic factors.
“While this is the largest combined (two-year) increase since April 2006, during the peak of the housing boom, the conference recognizes that there is an elevated level of risk due to the mature stage of the current economic expansion,” Baker said.
Nonetheless, the new estimates show the state should collect an additional $1.48 billion in general revenue this year, a 4.8 percent increase over the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The new 2019-2020 general revenue projection is 3.1 percent, or $1.01 billion, higher than this year.
A TALLAHASSEE LEGEND PASSES
Thomas Kent “T.K.” Wetherell was remembered Friday as an athlete, an academic, a clever legislator, a crafty dealmaker and a country boy who could be colorful with his words.
The former state House speaker from Daytona Beach who went on to become president of his alma mater, Florida State University, was noted for having four “F’s” in his life: faith, family, friends and FSU, in that order except on Saturdays when the school’s football team played.
Wetherell was also known for his love of country music, fried food, Blue Bell ice cream, NASCAR, hunting and fishing, said Bill Smith, president and CEO of Capital City Bank who is involved with the Florida State Athletic Board and The Florida State University Student Investment Fund.
“He played that country boy up naturally, but it was a disguise,” Smith said. “He was always three steps ahead of the crowd. The boy was smart.”
Wetherell, who served as speaker from 1990 to 1992, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
Wetherell, who would have turned 73 on Saturday, attended Florida State on a football scholarship from 1963 to 1967, while earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the school.
Wetherell went on to serve in the House from 1980 to 1992 and had a long career in education. He was provost and dean at Daytona State College and an associate professor of education at Bethune-Cookman University before becoming president of Tallahassee Community College in 1995. He served as FSU president from 2003 to 2010.
The Florida Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved the appointment of former House Speaker Richard Corcoran as the next state education commissioner.
Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes attorney who served as a Republican House speaker from 2016 until last month, will succeed Pam Stewart, a veteran educator who has led the Department of Education since 2013. Stewart will step down on Jan. 8.
The appointment of Corcoran, who has scant education experience but a lengthy political resume, was all but assured when DeSantis announced his support for the former lawmaker. As speaker, Corcoran made a top priority of expanding charter schools and using voucher-like programs to send students to private schools.
“Richard will be a bold leader committed to the success of students, parents, and teachers,” DeSantis said in a congratulatory tweet on Monday.
Corcoran has clashed with the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union. In part, he backed a law that will force local teachers’ unions to disband if their membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent in the collective-bargaining process.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the union, said he was “disappointed” in the state board’s decision but is hoping for a more “collaborative” relationship with Corcoran. The union has invited Corcoran to visit schools to see successful programs, which Corcoran said he would like to do.
“If you don’t bring all stakeholders to the table, then our children are in the balance,” Ingram said.
Ingram said teachers want Corcoran to address issues like the amount of testing students face, class sizes and the need to recruit and retain teachers.
“The fact that he is not an educator doesn’t mean he can’t do the job. But he’s got some learning to do,” Ingram said.
Corcoran said he is a strong supporter of traditional public schools as well as being an advocate for “choice” programs like charter schools and vouchers.
He said his initial agenda as commissioner would mirror policies outlined by DeSantis in this year’s gubernatorial campaign. The priorities include the expansion of vocational and technical programs, curriculum improvements, revising education standards and making sure 80 percent of education funding is spent in classrooms.
“Those are bold, optimistic visions on (the governor’s) part. I share it,” Corcoran said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Board of Education unanimously approved former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, to be the next education commissioner.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The fact that he is not an educator doesn’t mean he can’t do the job. But he’s got some learning to do,” said Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, about Corcoran’s appointment.