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House and Senate pass budgets-- let the pain begin

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R)
Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R)

By James Call


Tallahassee, FL – Republican Leaders at the State Capitol are holding to their no new taxes commitment. James Call reports both the Senate and the House passed bare-boned state budgets cutting almost $4 billion in spending.

Virtually nothing government does is spared. Not schools, or prisons or care for the sick and disabled escape spending cuts in budgets approved by the Florida House and Senate. The House and Senate agree to close a 3.8 billion dollar budget shortfall without raising any taxes. Senate President Mike Haridopolos said setting priorities while spending available revenue is forcing lawmakers to make difficult choices. Haridopolos acknowledges the budget cuts are going to affect the lives of many folks.

"We are hoping to minimize those negative impacts as best we can but as we mentioned on the floor the alternative would be to make the already weak business climate worse. So we are optimistic that if we make these tough decisions over the next year and somehow turn around this economy, some of these programs that are in jeopardy can be brought back to the level that can help out more people."

Hospitals and nursing homes would be paid less for Medicaid patients as part of a one-billion dollar cut in the program for low income and disabled people. College and university tuition would go up by five percent in the House and eight-percent in the Senate. About another billion would come out of public schools in each budget. Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich said she couldn't vote for the Senate proposal because it will cause unnecessary pain.

"When you look at a budget that cuts so much to the neediest people of our state, the most vulnerable people in our state. To our children through the education process, to our hospitals, devastating cuts to our hospitals, I just don't believe that we can vote yes on a budget like that."

Republican say any tax increase would stifle an economy that is barely growing. About one million Floridians are out of work. Next year's budget will be slightly more than one passed in 2005 before the recession began. Senator Don Gaetz said to oppose the austere spending plan lawmakers have cobbled together is to support a tax increase on a fragile economy.

"There is no President of the United States, Republican or Democrat, no Council of Economic Advisors advising any Republican or Democratic President since 1962 that advises the appropriate economic policy is in a recession is a tax increase. And let's face it -- if we do not adopt this budget today the only alternative is a tax increase."

That, say Democrats in the Senate and House, is a false choice. They criticized GOP leaders for not considering proposals to eliminate tax exemptions and close loopholes.

"No one is standing up here and urging a tax increase. What I am urging is though, that we find some way to create fairness in our tax structure, so that we don't constantly put the emphasis on those that have the least and give to those that have the most."

The Senate approved its budget proposal by a 33-6 vote, the House proposal passed on a 78-39 vote. Both fulfilled Leadership's requirement to balance the budget without a tax increase.

"We're going to spend less, there's going to be no new taxes. And I think we're proving that we can actually work together, the House Senate and Governor. I think we are going to prove that over the next month."

Conference committee meetings will be scheduled to work out the differences in the two plans. Haridopolos is holding open the possibility that the Legislature may be able to find a way to reduce some taxes, a campaign promise of Governor Rick Scott. The Legislature is scheduled to be in session until May 6th.