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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

After secret budget deal, lawmakers approve $156m in pork, turkeys, member projects, ...

In secret talks, top legislators and Gov. Rick Scott hatched a $69.7 billion budget deal involving a rather simple trade: tax cuts for hometown spending.

So lawmakers Tuesday quickly agreed to spend, spend, spend about $156-million on their hometown districts in projects that fund county health departments, a regatta center, meals for seniors, college buildings, a botanical garden and veterans’ programs.

Still, there were big budget losers: Hospitals statewide will face a $510-million cut, or 12 percent, in Medicaid reimbursements. Public school funding is down by 8-percent or $540 per student. Everglades restoration money is just enough to keep re-plumbing the River of Grass, and thousands of state jobs are being eliminated.

Legislators focused on the positive: level funding for mental-health and substance-abuse treatment programs. The catastrophically sick in the Meds AD and Medically Needy programs won’t face cuts, either, and taxpayers will get a small property tax cut.

"I can’t imagine a more difficult budget to work through," Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said of the need to cut spending by $4-billion to cope with weak tax collections.

The full picture of the budget, all of the cuts and hometown projects, won’t become clear until Wednesday, by which time the phone-book thick budget will be printed on members’ desks.

Through it all, Scott will get to sign a budget with tax cuts and business incentives that total about $308 million – one-eighth of the $2.4 billion he requested.

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 6:51am]


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