As the JCCI study group on the city budget begins to craft recommendations for the report comes news that we’re not the only metro area in the state suffering from budget woes. From today’s St. Pete Times:
As many as 1,000 jobs – about one-sixth of Hillsborough County’s county work force – may be eliminated because of declining property tax revenues, County Administrator Pat Bean said.
Hillsborough County is projecting a $114-million drop in property and sales taxes revenues next year. That’s a decline of about 13 percent in property taxes compared to this year’s revenues.
Then there is this article from today’s Miami Herald about the eminent resignation of the Hialeah Fire Chief Otto Drozd:
Drozd is now leaving his post amid similar worries and in a contract negotiation year that is sure to be a tough one because of the city’s declining tax revenues, primarily due to the drop in property values, rise in foreclosures and voter-approved tax cuts.
It’s no secret that declining property tax revenues are one of the factors at the core of the financial issues we’re facing here in Duval County as well, although in a recent conversation with a Neptune Beach City Commissioner, I learned at least that our little municipality is still staying above water. At the beach, that’s a pretty good thing … staying above water.
Of course, when I interviewed Governor Crist last year about his proposed property tax cuts, he held that the people of Florida were clamoring for property tax relief, and that cutting property taxes would be the end of all the states woes. Or at least that’s the impression he gave.
I’ve talked to plenty of people who still believe there is wasteful spending at all levels of government, and that simply making the right targeted cuts can bring harmony back to the accountants office. It’s also no secret that raising taxes is a very politically unpopular thing to do, at pretty much every level of government. So Florida, with the news today that the unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent (9.2% in Jacksonville), seems to be between a rock and a hard place.
The legislature, for it’s part, seems to at least be trying. But with a $6 billion dollar hole to fill, some programs are likely to be slashed entirely to avoid deep cuts in education … where we already spend less than 46 other states. And with 36 days to sine die, there’s quite a bit of discussion. From today’s edition of “The Florida Capital News:
The philosophical rift between the House and Senate grew wider Thursday as both chambers worked on competing plans to deal with a $6 billion budget shortfall.
Chief among them is a refusal by House Republicans to accept up to $1 billion in federal stimulus money that would go to 250,000 Floridians whose unemployment benefits are about to expire.
Democrats balked at a proposal that would save $35 million by dropping 12,000 people from nursing-home diversion programs.
Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, fumed about a threat to trim state spending on foster care by $7.9 million, a move that would actually cost the program $18.9 million when the loss of federal dollars is included.
I’m not sure where the answers lie, though I’m hopeful that some of the recommendations we come up with at JCCI can make a difference, at least locally. We don’t even start working on those until this coming week, and based on what we’ve heard from the folks who’ve come to talk to us, the choices will be difficult, politically and otherwise.