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State Economist: Special Budget Session Unlikely

Saying recent estimates appear to be holding up, the Legislature’s top economist on Thursday said it was unlikely lawmakers would have to return for a special session this fall to tweak the state budget.

Amy Baker, coordinator at the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said predictions made in March by a panel of economists are being validated by hard data amassed since the panel last met. Given such accuracy, budget decisions based on that data appear to remain valid.

“I don’t see that happening,” Baker said of a special budget session. “When you look at the last couple months, our projections are tracking really well.”

Baker made the comments a few hours after she and other state economists concluded an assessment of the national economic picture, saying it was not as bad as they had last predicted but may take a little longer to recover then previously thought.

“We all felt that we are getting close to the bottom, but it’s going to take a little time to come back,” she said.

Rumors have been floating around the capital city that lawmakers may have to return this fall to again tweak the state’s financial blueprint by cutting more spending.

Though unforeseen events could change her assessment, Baker said the country has already weathered a housing slump, a credit crunch and other unpredicted events and the earlier estimates are still holding up. The panel plans to meet during the first week in August to revise its state economic forecast.

“I think we’ve about run out of shocks, at least right now,” Baker said.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Crist was characteristically upbeat, saying he was briefed on Wednesday by budget director Jerry McDaniel and liked what he heard.

“It looks like numbers are slightly up,” Crist said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape, especially when you compare Florida to New York, California, Michigan and some of the other states. The soundness of our budget is something to be envied.”

While somewhat optimistic, state economists weren’t ready to pronounce the national economy as recovered. Continued tight credit and a persistent lag in home sales may linger longer than previously predicted, making any recovery slower.

“The credit market is a big question mark,” said Clyde Diao, an economist in the governor's office.

Another big question is whether consumers respond to any good news by going out and buying something or if they will instead sock it away for the next rainy day. Consumer spending has been a critical component of the nation’s activity.

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