Gov. Crist reverses some cuts to budget
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Appeasing Democrats and disappointing his own party, Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday restored more than $360 million of budget cuts approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature earlier this month.
With the gloomy economy drying up state revenues, lawmakers were forced to fill a $2.3 billion budget hole this month, cutting spending and borrowing from trust funds to tide the state over until this summer.
Legislators will meet in their annual session in March, where they will have to figure out a way to fill an additional $4 billion-plus in budget deficits.
Among the items restored by Crist was about $29 million for education, including bonuses for nationally certified teachers and autism programs.
Crist also reversed about $23 million in cuts for low-income health programs and $16 million for public safety spending.
"I know that it's not fun for anybody to have to undergo reductions," Crist said while praising lawmakers for their work.
But in stark contrast to the morose gloom of lawmakers who had to patch together the budget deficit, Crist used words like "resurrect," "restore" and "preserving" in defining his budget reversals.
While GOP lawmakers grumbled privately that Crist's vetoes left them politically exposed, Democrats used Crist's own actions as cudgels against the GOP.
"This is a small victory for those of us in the House Democratic Caucus who warned of the long-term negative consequences of Republican legislators' short-sighted budget fixes," said House Democratic leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston. "Crist's decision to restore a fraction of the more than $1 billion in Republican spending cuts to schools, health care and other state priorities offers a glimmer of hope that he's willing to override some of the harsh tactics of Republican budget writers."
Republican leaders were terse, yet careful to avoid public criticism of the governor.
"As the governor prepares his budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year, we expect as the state's chief executive he will provide his solutions on how to keep Florida's budget in balance in the face of declining revenues," said House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin.
Crist's decision to reverse lawmakers' votes and reinstate more than $2 million to maintain the Florida Forever program that buys environmentally sensitive land was the primary debating point between Crist and the Legislature.
The state's agriculture commissioner, Charles Bronson, said Tuesday that the program was valuable, but not more valuable than paying for the state's bigger needs.
"There are other major issues we may not be able to pay for over the next couple of years that may be a little more important than just continuing to purchase land because it's there," said Bronson.
Crist did not reverse lawmakers' decision to borrow money set aside for affordable housing construction.
Florida Home Builders Association President Jay Carlson said the Legislature's use of $190 million from that fund "further devastates Florida's housing industry."
Crist repeated his oft-stated hope that the federal stimulus package will spare deeper budget cuts before June.
But even conservative Republican lawmakers are considering hikes in the cigarette tax and other revenue increases to offset three straight years of budget cuts that now total nearly $8 billion since 2006.
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