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Alexander: Layoffs May Have to be Considered

Florida may be forced to lay off state workers in a quest to fill what may be a nearly $3 billion budget hole in the coming fiscal year, the Senate’s ranking budget chairman said Wednesday.

With at least $1.5 billion needed just to fund critical issues – and more needed if lawmakers want to increase school funding, provide employee raises or reduce taxes – Senate Ways and Means chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said some layoffs may have to be added to the mix of program cuts and belt tightening to balance the state budget in tough budget times.

“It will probably be difficult not to have some layoffs in these budget discussions, but with that said, when we tax folks more in this kind of climate we may very well create layoffs,” Alexander said. “So, it’s a conundrum that we all have to work through.”

Skip Martin, staff director for the committee, briefed panelists on current budget projections, including some adjustments made since revenue projections were last tweaked in September.

On the plus side, Martin reported that general revenue estimates increased by nearly $300 million. Increased foreclosure fees and reduced prison numbers combined for an additional $100 million.

But the state faces significant challenges in other programs that will quickly eat up the additional revenue. An additional $462 million in Medicaid costs and $10.7 million more needed to meet expanding voluntary Pre-K program are now in the mix.

Meanwhile, shrinking local tax rolls have reduced local public school revenues by $301 million, a gap that must be made up by state lawmakers.

“Most of us in our families and businesses have been able to make those kinds of adjustments,” Alexander said. “They’re not fun and not what we want to do, but I think we have the capability to find responsible ways to fund critical needs and live within our means.”

Other panelists said the Legislature must do more than just trim a few budget items.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said that rather than “just tinkering around the edges” lawmakers need to cut entire programs from the base, though he didn’t make specific suggestions.

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