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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

An early peek at Crist's budget priorities



Gov. Charlie Crist is tentatively planning to call for up to $1-billion in new spending next year, the Times has learned.

Just how will that math work in a year when less money is expected to run the government?

Crist is proposing making $350-million in cuts and raising another $870-million in new revenue, such as taking money from government endowment set aside for health care, possible new Lottery games or an infusion of money from new Indian casinos.

He also wants to give state workers a small raise, spend more on Medicaid (as required by a federal law change) and promote economic development ($400-million more, according to a preliminary estimate).

More than a third of the new money in Crist's budget, about $800-million, would be for Florida public schools, an amount sufficient to give teachers a raise in a time of flat student enrollment. Crist confirmed the public education number, but his staff declined to provide any details to corroborate The Buzz's information.

"I feel very strongly about that," Crist said of the new education money. "We made a commitment on education and it's extremely important to the people. I want to continue to be able to offer higher salaries to our public school teachers. I think we're going to be able to do it. As you know, these are recommendations. It's up to the Legislature to appropriate."

Crist is under political pressure to make sure public schools are held harmless from the effects of both the economic slump and the potential loss of revenue if the property tax amendment passes on Jan. 29.

Crist also confirmed to the St. Petersburg Times that he's interested in tapping the Lawton Chiles endowment, a health care fund, by as much as $400-million as one way to balance the budget -- an idea that is sure to draw resistance from legislators.

Some areas slated for possible funding reductions include tuition assistance to students attending private schools and Alzheimer's care. The governor's office projects a savings of an estimated $130-million in prison operating costs by increasing substance abuse treatment for inmates by $28-million next year, and thereby reducing recidivism rates.

Crist will release parts of his budget in a series of "roll-outs" over the next few weeks. His office declined to confirm any preliminary numbers. "Gov. Crist looks forward to discussing his budget proposals in further details in the coming weeks through a series of announcements," spokeswoman Erin Isaac said Friday.

House leaders in recent days have ramped up their warning signs about the seriousness of the state's fiscal situation, suggesting possible political trouble ahead over meeting Crist's goals in such tough times.

"The budget situation is deteriorating," House Speaker Marco Rubio said in a memorandum to members on Thursday. "It is therefore critical that we begin to take serious steps to reduce the recurring expenditures." Rubio has called for an extra week of budget hearings the week of Feb. 11. 

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2:15pm]


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