Atwater says Crist budget proposal 'rather optimistic,' 'high bar to clear'
Foreshadowing a difficult lame-duck session for Gov. Charlie Crist, Senate President Jeff Atwater poo-pooed the governor's education budget's dependence on gaming revenues. Atwater said Crist's proposed K-12 education budget, with more than $400 million built around revenues from a gaming compact that seems unlikely to pass the Legislature, "seems rather optimistic." He also said the governor's contention that salaries and layoffs aren't necessary would be a "high bar to clear" given the state budget deficit.
Atwater, one of many elected officials seeking higher office, vowed to work with his chamber and the House to create a budget that encourages "leaner, more efficient growth" and an economy "structured for growth and job retention."
He dismissed the need for higher taxes to cover the state's projected deficit for the coming year, which is as much as $3.2 billion by some estimates.
"I think this is a time that we must look everywhere to reduce government spending," said Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, who is running for state chief financial officer. "Floridians cannot afford to give their state or federal government another dollar."
House Speaker Larry Cretul, meanwhile, said he has instructed his chamber and staff to make education funding "the highest priority." He, like Atwater, offered a more grim outlook on the session than the ever-sunny Crist.
"We're going to have some shortfalls," Cretul said, and he added he wants to not just cut spending but leave money in reserves. Crist recently said he again wants to tap the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, saying such pots of money are meant for down times.
Cretul likened the budget process ahead to "three tropical depressions" -- the governor, Senate and House -- colliding and swirling to form a hurricane. Yikes.