The Corcoran Report: April 2009

Annual Legislative Session Winds Down

Florida's annual Legislative Session is entering the final two weeks at the time of this writing. Due the continued economic conditions within Florida, the state budget remains under significant strain and remains the focus of the Legislature. While there are a few positive economic indicators in the last two months, such as increased sales of existing homes, the state continues to struggle with declining revenue. Since many taxes in Florida are paid in arrears, this situation is expected to continue.

Entering the Legislative Session, lawmakers were faced with a revenue shortfall representing the need to reduce Florida's budget by $6 billion for fiscal year 2009-2010. The federal stimulus package has resulted in revenue of just more than $3 billion, which is being used to fund the shortfall. However, lawmakers continue to work to overcome the need for an additional $3 billion in reductions or increased revenue.

While a repeal of sales tax exemptions was looked at closely early in session by both the House and Senate, many groups, including the Community Papers of Florida, joined together to communicate with legislators about the real impact removal of these exemptions would have on Florida's economy. As a result of those efforts, a wholesale repeal of sales tax exemptions, of which there are more than 240, does not appear to have support for passage in either the House or the Senate at this time.

Additional revenues are being created through a cigarette surcharge, the proposed repeal of some tax exemptions on items such as charter fishing trips, and approval of a gambling compact with the Seminoles.

Estimated amounts of increased revenues vary; however, most agree the new revenue will total about $2 billion. Additionally, reductions in services and programs, a proposed pay reduction for state employees and a myriad of cuts will result in a balanced budget. At the time of this writing, the House and Senate remain apart by a total of more than $600 million.

This session has been dominated primarily by budget concerns and few substantive issues have been seriously considered as a result. Workers comp, homeowners' insurance rates and property tax reduction measures have been considered but are not yet ready for debate in the full House and Senate.

The House has fully debated a change in the class-size requirements, which places a significant financial constraint on the budget; but at this time the Senate has not fully considered the issue. Other issues of importance include the proposed SunRail project in the Orlando / Lakeland area, where commuter train service would begin following passage of the proposal.

One key issue of importance for the Community Papers of Florida, statutes governing notice of publication, received considerable discussion and consideration this session. Throughout the process, Community Papers of Florida's team has monitored, reported and communicated with respect to this issue.

Senate Bill 2292 and House Bill 1477 would provide government entities the ability to post their notices of publication on websites, instead of requiring placement in the newspaper. This proposal received opposition from the daily papers but originated due to the decline in readership for many daily papers and the increase in website traffic on various websites.

The proposal was heard in the Senate Community Affairs committee and was not considered in the House this year. The result of the hearing in the Senate is an interim report, to be developed over the summer and presented to the Senate in the fall. The interim report will fully explain the current situation and background and will likely propose solutions for consideration by Florida's Legislature next year.

We are committed to being part of this dialogue and interim report process and will be updating the membership as this report is discussed and developed. It is likely that there will be opportunity to offer community papers as part of the proposed solution and we will remain engaged throughout the process in this regard.

This Legislative Session likely will be one which is remembered as having focused almost entirely on the state budget and the economic conditions within the state. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as several positive economic indicators have emerged in the last two months indicating Florida is moving, albeit slowly, in a more positive economic direction.

As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you, the members of the Community Papers of Florida.

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