amy_baker.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ State economists are making relatively small changes to their forecast for an improving Florida economy, but whether the federal government goes off the so-called “fiscal cliff'' could change that.

Legislative and executive branch economists met Friday to update the forecast, which will form the basis of a general revenue estimate they'll issue on Dec. 14. Gov. Rick Scott will use the revenue estimate for his budget recommendations to the Legislature next year.

Economists are still predicting a slow, steady improvement through 2022. Job growth of about 1 percent and total employment of 8 million are expected in 2013. Employment is forecast to reach about 8.5 million in 10 years. By then, the state's unemployment rate is expected to drop to about 5.3 percent. The latest jobless rate, announced Friday, was 8.5 percent in October.

How and if Congress reaches an agreement to avoid going over the fiscal cliff _ which would trigger a combination of automatic tax increases and sharp spending cuts, as stipulated by a 2011 budget compromise _could dramatically change the state forecast, said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“What we're trying to do now is to make sure that we have a fairly conservative approach going forward, knowing that whenever that final agreement is reached, we're going to have to come back in and re-evaluate it no matter what it is,'' Baker said.

If Congress is unable to avoid the automatic spending cuts, Florida's many military bases and defense contractors could take a hit.

Baker said any agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress is likely to soften that blow on the military, but it's still likely to alter the state economic forecast.

“Ideally you hope that whatever combination of ideas they come up with are going to be the things that have the least effect on Florida, but we're typically not that lucky,'' Baker said.

Besides an improving employment picture, particularly for the hard-hit construction industry, the forecast calls for continued growth in tourism, population, motor vehicle sales and personal income.


*pictured above is Amy Baker.