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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Overpromising, underdelivering

15

January

Lawmakers slashed $1.2-billion in spending Wednesday, reduced nearly every state program's budget -- and began breaking their own promises.

In a May 2 news release headlined ''House Republicans Keep their Promise to Floridians,'' legislative leaders boasted that the 2008-09 budget didn't spend savings on day-to-day operations, gave more money to the Florida Highway Patrol and the Agency for Persons With Disabilities, and didn't reduce Children's Medical Services, Healthy Start or the state crime lab.

But Wednesday's newly trimmed budget reverses most of those commitments. It spends up to $1.6-billion in savings money, takes back the new FHP and Agency for Persons With Disabilities money, and cuts the crime lab and services for kids.

State Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the promises couldn't be kept for reasons beyond anyone's control.

''No one would have expected us to keep those commitments,'' he said, "if anyone had predicted that by January '09 the big three automakers would be near bankruptcy, the stock market would have lost 30 percent of its value and the economy would have contracted faster than it has ever contracted since we've been keeping records.''

Republicans followed through on some of their vows. They kept crucial Medicaid payments for the elderly and held hospice harmless. They also kept the promise to not raise school property taxes and to keep per-student funding above the 2007 level -- albeit by $12.80.

But they increased traffic fines, raised a nursing home tax and shifted more of the burden for funding hospitals to local taxpayers.

The voter-approved ''high quality'' prekindergarten program has been watered down a little, with summer class sizes that will grow 20 percent, from 10 to 12 students. Per-student funding also was cut.

Then there's Florida Forever land-buying program. ''Forever'' will stop for the rest of the budget year. What comes after that will be decided at the March regular session. The Legislature also raided $1.2-billion in so-called trust funds established with taxes for dedicated purposes, such as affordable housing, health care, environmental cleanup and insurance regulation.

The Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund for poor children and seniors could fare worst of all. If federal money doesn't come by June 15, it will lose $700-million.

''They shouldn't call these trust funds,'' said Democratic Key West Rep. Ron Saunders. "There's no trust.''

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[Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 4:13pm]

    

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