Speaker: Another austere state budget is looming

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s next budget will be austere again but manageable, House Speaker Larry Cretul said Wednesday during and after remarks to a cost-cutting task force trying to help the state squeeze more money out of its annual spending plan.

A forecast for modest revenue growth in the 2010-11 budget year after three straight years of declines is “not enough to make us all comfortable when the stimulus package begins to flame out,” the Ocala Republican said.

The Legislature used $5.3 billion in federal stimulus dollars to prop up the current $66.5 billion budget that took effect July 1. Stimulus funds also will be available for next year’s budget, but then they’ll expire.

State economists Tuesday slightly reduced their general revenue estimates for the current and next budget years. The new forecast, though, still calls for revenue growth of $1.4 billion, or 6.8 percent, in 2010-11.

Cretul also said this year’s ban on funding lawmakers’ local or pet projects probably will be extended into the 2010-11 budget year.

Cretul said he’s hoping the cost-cutting task force of government officials and business leaders created by Florida TaxWatch, a private budget watchdog group, will help lawmakers find ways to economize.

The panel’s goal is to find $3 billion to $4 billion in cost savings, said TaxWatch and task force chairman David A. Smith.

He said his experience in the private sector shows it can be done. Smith is president and CEO of Jacksonville-based PSS World Medical Inc., which distributes medical supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals to physicians.