tampabay.com

Study calls on state to review financial future

Scholars at the University of Florida and Florida State University say the state will likely face a shortfall if officials don't act to avoid it.

By LUCY MORGAN
Published October 4, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - Florida is facing some tough financial choices, according to a new study completed by scholars at the University of Florida and Florida State University.

Tough Choices was released Monday by former Republican Sen. Curt Kiser and former Democratic Gov. Buddy MacKay. It calls for modifying the class size amendment approved by voters in 2004, taxing Internet sales, increasing spending for higher education and removing property tax caps.

The bipartisan study was directed by the LeRoy Collins Institute at FSU and financed with a $100,000 grant from the Jesse Ball duPont Fund of Jacksonville.

Professors at the two universities were asked to consider whether Florida's current tax structure will support future needs. They concluded that the state's general revenue is likely to grow at barely half the rate of the last two years.

"Florida is staring straight at a significant shortfall and some very tough choices," the report concludes. "This at a time when pressures to fund pre-K-12 education, Medicaid and other state needs will be as intense as any time in recent history."

Kiser, president of the Collins Institute, said the study determined that the state must look for compromises in education and Medicaid spending while avoiding any new tax breaks or incentives for retirees.

Instead of limiting all classrooms to 20 students as the amendment would require, state officials should try to increase the numbers of students allowed in upper grades while maintaining smaller classrooms in elementary schools, Kiser said.

The state should also extend the sales tax to Internet sales, put new construction on property tax rolls right away, dedicate impact fees to school construction, raise millage caps for local option sales, gas and property taxes and allow small special purpose taxes, the study determined.

The Collins Institute will ask Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature to appoint an official commission to consider the study and make recommendations for the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions.

The two-year study was conducted by UF economics professor David Denslow and Carol Weissert, the LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar at FSU.

Details of the study are available from the Collins Institute at 850 644-1441 or on the Internet at www.fsu.edu/collins