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Haridopolos sets the bar low for 2012 session

Senate President Mike Haridopolos opened the 2012 legislative session by lowering expectations. James Call reports, Haridopolos greeted Senators with a speech praising their work during the last session and asking them to consider delaying passing a state budget with the hope that the economy will improve and lawmakers can avoid making billions of dollars in spending cuts.

The 2012 legislative session may be Senate President Mike Haridopolos' final act at the state house. The Melbourne Republican is term-limited and currently not a candidate for another office. In his opening day remarks he failed to mention any of the hot button issues lawmakers will work on during the 60-day session, such as no-fault auto insurance or destination resort casinos. He told Senators the agenda he proposed last year he thought would take two years to implement but lawmakers did the work in one.

"It was ambitious to say the least, Medicaid reform, pension reform, k-12 education, pill mills, a budget shortfall, I can't tell you how proud I am of this senate, the honor you bestowed upon me as you met these challenges head on every step of the way in an open and transparent manner like never before."

Redistricting, the once in a decade task of redrawing congressional and state house seats, and a state budget are the only two bills the Legislature is required to pass. Because of redistricting lawmakers began the session two months earlier than usual. This presents a problem for writing a state budget.

Current estimates project a $2 billion shortfall in tax collections to meet expected expenses. But the session's early start means the projection is not based on a full year of data. Haridopolos wants lawmakers to consider waiting for a Spring revenue estimate report before passing a state spending plan. His hope is that a recovering economy may produce additional revenue and close some of the shortfall.

"As I enter my 12th session I know those revenue estimates are not always quite accurate. And especially as we begin early this year we know one of the biggest months of those 12 months is January. And those won't even be part of the equation. But I am not arrogant enough to be a one-way street. So I will ask the senators in this room for their input on how we will proceed."

Later this month the revenue estimating conference will issue a projection of how much money lawmakers will have to spend. Altamonte Springs Senator David Simmons predicts senators will wait for that report before deciding how to proceed. At this time, Simmons is non-committal on when to write a state budget.

"Whether or not we pass a budget right now, before the end of February or the first of March or whether we go ahead and wait, obviously the alternative is to pass right now or if new numbers cause us to change, then we can come back for a special session. I look at it as six of one and a half dozen of another."

Senate Budget committee Chairman J.D. Alexander has suggested it would make sense to wait. Tuesday he said senators will use the best information available to write a state spending plan.

"If in the senate choice we decide to wait a little bit to get more information that could be the choice or we could move right on through to get it written on time. It will depend on how it looks to us in the coming weeks."

Across the state house rotund a, House Speaker Dean Cannon said it is his intention to pass the state budget during the regular 60-day session.