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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Confusion over the governor's budget



Lawmakers today expressed dissatisfaction over the figures in Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget recommendation and confusion over what’s at stake in accepting more than $13 billion in federal stimulus money.

“It seems like conjecture … what we hope we’ll be getting,” said Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, a retired teacher and freshman member of the House preK-12 appropriations committee. “I just don’t see the clarities as to what’s going on.”

Members of the governor’s office of policy and budget appeared before House and Senate committees to explain Crist’s 2009-2010 proposal issued last month. But with an updated state revenue forecast due next Friday, an updated amount on Florida’s share of the stimulus and a lack of clarity over federal guidelines for accepting that stimulus, the figures appear outdated already.

Crist's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, told the Senate's ways and means panel that revenue could drop  by $1.2 billion to $1.9 billion when the new forecast is done. Plus, he said, the current budget could lose $600 million to $900 million -- potentially exhausting the $2 billion cushion Crist planned. That led lawmakers to ask the governor's office to recast its spending plan.

“I would hope that the governor’s office would propose a completely new budget based on new numbers,” said Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Winter Garden, vice chair of the state universities and private colleges appropriations committee. “We just don’t know the numbers … the rules of the game.”

Scott Kittel, Crist’s education policy coordinator, addressed the joint meeting of the House appropriations committees for preK-12 and state universities and private colleges. Many questions were about the strings attached to the stimulus money.

“Are we acquiescing our autonomy?” asked Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, who helped create a charter school where he still works.

The Department of Education is expected to issue stimulus guidelines “shortly,” Kittel said.

“For right now, this is a wonderful opportunity to maintain where we are right now (in terms of education funding),” Kittel said.

Kittel was asked whether the governor prepared a budget without the stimulus money, which some legislators are cool to accepting. The answer was no.

“The risk side of not accepting the stimulus dollars is an immediate reduction” in school funding, Kittel said. “The choice was clear for the governor that we should accept these funds."


[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:30pm]


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