Local officials: Revenue still flat
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $74.2 billion budget on Thursday, one of the largest in state history.
Published: February 3, 2013
Published: February 3, 2013
That $8 billion increase — 12 percent higher than last year — was justified on the generation of more sales tax and other tax revenues.
However, Highlands County and the three municipalities don't share the governor's rosy opinion.
Tax Collector Eric Zwayer said revenue is up 1.6 percent from last year for car tags, fishing licenses and the host of fees collected for the state.
Highlands County Budget Manager David Nitz said gasoline tax collections are flat; sales taxes are trending fractionally upward. Sebring Finance Director Mike Eastman agreed: the trend lines for sales and gasoline taxes look horizontal, and any increase will be small.
"We're not seeing any increase," said Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre. "We're at a level place. We're not seeing any decreases, either."
McIntyre had a conversation with Highlands County Realtors last week, who acknowledged a similar trend.
However, even with new construction in Highlands County — mostly commercial, and most of that on U.S. 27 — McIntyre doesn't see any tax revenue growth.
"But it's very early in the cycle," McIntyre cautioned. "The numbers don't start to jell for us until April, May."
The county and municipal budget cycle begins in October – still eight months away. The state's budget cycle begins in July.
Julian Deleon had a similar answer: it's too early to tell, but the city manager does not see increased collections on the horizon.
"It's right on a line with what we have forecast," Deleon said. Avon Park's tax collections come mostly from ad valorem and utilities, where the city has annexed territory and taken on new water and sewer customers.
"But even with the added accounts, the increase has not been that drastic," Deleon said.
The governor's budget priority in FY 2013-14 is a $1.2 billion hike in K-12 education funding – include a $2,500 raise for teachers at a cost of $480 million.
"It's the right thing to do for our children," Scott said. "This total includes $10.7 billion in state funding for Florida K-12 schools, the highest state funding level in history."
Scott's other must-have: eliminating sales taxes on manufacturing equipment. He says that would save businesses $140 million annually, so of course it would cost Florida an equal amount.
Scott was asked how he reconciles his election on a platform of reducing the size and cost of government when he's pushing one of the largest budgets in Florida's history.
His answer: Floridians just want a government that operates more efficiently and effectively.
"And we did that. We walked in with almost a $4 billion budget deficit. We balanced the budget, we paid down state debt, we cut taxes, cut regulations, and it worked. Now we have the wherewithal to make more investments."
"We need to build up manufacturing jobs in the great state of Florida," Scott said. "Because of the hard work we have done to identify cost savings and efficiencies across state government."
Scott's senate opponent, Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, was skeptical: "It's a taxpayer-financed down payment on courting votes for 2014."
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story. email@example.com (863) 386-5828