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Budget Sniping Begins

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By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-884045.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Governor Charlie Crist's reputation as an optimistic is evident in his 2010-2011 budget proposals. Many lawmakers are not buying it, saying his spending plan is either unrealistic or too expensive.

By temperament or training, Governor Crist tends to focus on the blue at the horizon while others are preoccupied with dark clouds above. When lawmakers craft this year's budget, they will reveal whether they believe the recession has ended. Crist looks at economic indicators and wants to increase spending. The chairman of an important House Committee rejected the proposal, and here is the governor's response to criticism that his plan doesn't reflect economic reality.

"I think we have an optimistic view of things, but I have had very good conversations with members of the House and the Senate, and I respect their ability and their constitutional duty to appropriate and go through this process. We're a team around here, you know, just because we present a budget doesn't mean that they have to accept it. I think it's a good ebb and a flow, and I look forward to the process as we go forward."

Crist's proposed $69-billion budget is smaller than what he had when he took office in 2007 at the start of the recession, and it's about four-percent bigger than the current one. He includes money for Medicaid that Congress has yet to approve, from a gambling agreement that the Legislature has yet to make, and from an economic recovery that has yet to begin. Senator Evelyn Lynn chairs the Higher Education Committee.

"If this holds true, why, I support it a thousand percent. And Mr. Chairman I hope that is the kind of budget you're going to end up giving me."

At a Senate Finance and Tax meeting, an economist used colored graphs and columns of numbers to paint a picture of Florida's economy in a recession.

"What we're telling you, as of today, we're standing in the trough, we're still there on the bottom, and we're expecting it in the next two months to start out."

Tampa Senator Rhonda Storms was the first speaker.

"I don't think we're in the bottom yet. I mean, Senator Bennett, do you think we're in the bottom? Do you think we've hit bottom? I don't think we have."

Senator Mike Bennett replied, "I wish I could say that we have, but I don't feel that we have. I think the commercial market is going to bring us down much further than the residential market did, because there is so much vacancy out there."

Senator Thad Altman added, "I know we haven't hit the bottom in Brevard, because we are about to lose twenty-thousand jobs.

Altman was referring to proposed NASA budget cuts. If the Senate did accept the governor's optimistic view, then his budget proposal would still face another hurdle. Economists expect personal income to grow about three-percent next year. The governor proposes increasing state spending by about four-percent, and those are numbers that fiscal conservatives like Senator John Thrasher will not accept.

"My belief since I was in the House and particularly in the years that I was speaker is that the budget ought not to increase faster than the ability of the people to pay for it. And if people's incomes are only going to increase three point so percent, I don't think the state budget ought to increase more than that, simple as that. I think that's what we owe the taxpayers, particularly in difficult times like this."

Both the House Speaker and Senate President have expressed doubts that lawmakers will approve any spending increases. However, Governor Charlie Crist notes that it is February and that the Spring Legislative Session has yet to begin.

"We make a recommendation. This is a process. The legislature appropriates, and they are beginning that process, and I know that they will do it in a respectful way, and the people of Florida will appreciate that. You know, we have until the beginning of May."