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"Veto" Crist Acts on Budget

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-905072.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Newly independent Governor Charlie Crist signed a $70-billion budget with a liberal dose of line-item vetoes. Crist waited to act until Friday's deadline to cut more than $370-million from the spending plan the Legislature sent him.

No oil has polluted Florida waters, wetlands or beaches yet, but when Governor Crist reviewed next year's budget, he was thinking about how much the BP oil spill will cost the Sunshine State.

"Clearly there is an impact. We just don't know how much or how extensive it's going to be until the conclusion of this situation that we are all dealing with. Is it a factor in evaluating the budget, absolutely it is. I would like to have more in reserve rather than less just to be safe."

The governor's vetoes freed up $371-million that may be added to the $1.8-billion lawmakers left in the state's savings account. If not dedicated to whatever damage the oil spill creates, then it is money that can be used to offset an expected $6-billion shortfall next year.

Among the changes Crist made to the spending plan was cancelling the transfer of money from a variety of trust funds, including a $160-million sweep from transportation. Senate Transportation Chairman Mike Fasano asked the governor to keep the money in road building projects.

"Those dollars that are available because of the vetoes could be used to build roads, widen roads, resurface roads, do exactly what those trust fund dollars were supposed to be used for."

After the Crist cuts, the spending plan comes in at $3.5-billion more than the current budget. Republican lawmakers boasted of balancing the budget without increasing taxes while Democrats complained about skimping on critical services. Senator Nan Rich was one of four no votes when the Senate passed the budget. She argued against cuts to substance abuse and social service programs.

"For instance, in HHS we capped (assistance) for developmentally disabled who are receiving services. We weren't providing enough funding to cover those services in the first place and now we've capped them, and we have a waiting list of over 19-thousand people. So, you know, all told I just could not really vote for a budget that did those kinds of things."

Legislative leaders said a recession mandated that they do those kinds of things. Florida's Medicaid system, healthcare for the poor and disabled, signed up more clients as the recession deepened. Last year, costs jumped $1.8-billion for a total of more than $19-billion. That in turn forced cuts elsewhere which led to heated fights over dollars.

The governor may have irritated different lawmakers whose pet projects he cut. However, Senator Fasano said, given the limited resources that committee chairs had to work with, it is only fair for the governor veto spending items added to the budget at the last minute.

"It's disappointing to myself and many of my colleagues that, at the end of the process in the waning hours of session, all of a sudden as I said earlier, literally hundreds of millions of dollars appear, after crying poor mouth for many of the months prior to session and during session, and this is not the way we should develop a budget."

The $70-billion spending plan is for the fiscal year that begins July first. Although it represents an increase over the current budget, it is $3.3-billion less than the state budget for 2006-2007.