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On day two, senate passes budget over dems protests

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By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-962151.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Senate approved its state budget proposal Thursday, James Call reports the nearly $70 billion spending plan passed with a number of Senators saying they were voting yes not because they support the plan but because they want to start negotiations with the House.

Senate Budget Chief J.D. Alexander conceded that in setting spending priorities he is asking Senators to make difficult decisions. Alexander balanced the budget by reducing spending by nearly four- billion dollars and requiring government workers to contribute between 2.6 percent of their pay to the state retirement plan. He said he knows he is asking a lot of state employees and workers like teachers, firefighters and sheriff deputies.

"It has been a while since people have had raises, I get that. I also know in my district, virtually every business I know has done layoffs and reductions, and many businesses have closed and many businesses are struggling to re-open. And in my world folks can't afford an additional tax burden and I think our position of being mindful of that is the right position for our state at this time."

A half dozen Democrats objected to cuts to education, health care and state employee benefits. They say the proposal will create unnecessary pain.
Going over some of the more controversial bills.

The Senate Democratic caucus met Thursday morning to set strategy on the budget vote. Freshman Senator Bill Montford sought advice from his colleagues. He said he understood the process and appreciated the work that has gone into building the budget but was reluctant to vote for a budget when agree with what is in it.

"So I appreciate the discussion and quite frankly I am torn. How do you... What is the real rule here? Not the rule, what's the best approach here? What kind of message can we send not only to our constituents, but to the leadership of the senate as well?

Democrats complain that the Republican Majority presented a false choice between spending cuts and tax increases. In debate on the floor, Senator Nan Rich said no effort has been made to close tax loopholes to raise more money to pay for government services.

"So, when people talk about presenting bills to try and close loopholes, I want to indicate here the bill that I have, and that others deal with closing loopholes are not tax increases. Nobody is standing up here and urging we have a tax increase. What I am urging is that we find some way to create fairness in our tax structure so that we don't constantly put the emphasis on those who have the least and give to those who have the most."

Republican lawmakers also expressed an uneasiness with decisions made in crafting the spending plan. Senator Paula Dockery objected to characterizing a no vote the budget as a yes vote to a tax increase. She quickly listed 7 line items and questioned the two billion dollars in spending they represented. Dockery explained she was voting yes on Thursday but only to get negotiations started with the House.

"We're all going to go to conference, but at this point I'm going to support the budget and when the final budget comes out if we are still hitting the public employees as hard as we're hitting them now for pensions, for investing health care and again, not having a raise after four years, then I'm not going to be able to support a budget that is balanced on the back of our state employees."

The Senate's 69.8 billion dollar budget is larger than the House's because it employs different bookkeeping procedures. Both chambers plan to reduce spending on schools, prisons and social services. Both plans eliminate state jobs and are expected to cause layoffs in state government and public schools. The two chambers next week are expected to begin meeting in budget conference committee and resolve differences between the two spending plans. The state fiscal year begins July one.