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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

No more drama: House Dems get on board the state budget

Despite all the meltdown drama from the past couple of days, don’t expect a big clash on the state’s $74.5 billion budget on Friday.

Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said Thursday the Democrats won’t be voting along any prescribed party line when the budget come up for a vote.

“There will be some who will voting for the budget, and they’ll have legitimate reasons to vote for it, which I think are legitimate reasons,” Thurston said Thursday.

Thurston said he will be among those Democrats voting against the proposed budget as a protest for the House’s refusal to expand Medicaid and a disputed vote Wednesday that gave a tax break for manufacturing equipment.

But he said other Democratic lawmakers, like Rep. Alan Williams, had every right to endorse the budget with a “yay” vote because of issues that help state workers and teachers. Williams’ district is in Leon County, which has about 20,000 state workers. State workers are getting automatic raises between $1,000 and $1,400, plus bonuses up to $600.

“It’s time that they should be compensated, so if Alan Williams, who has been fighting on this issue, wants to vote for it, he should vote for it,” Thurston said. “He has every right to, he’s the catalyst who has done the right thing. He can tell his constituents, ‘That’s why he voted for it.’”

Williams said he still opposes the House’s stance on Medicaid, but he won’t let it stand in the way of his support of the budget.

“I can’t in good conscience not support the individuals who sent me here,” Williams said. “My job, along with Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was to get a pay raise for state employees. You can’t let perfect get in the way of what’s possible.”

Some Democrats had previously opposed certain things about the budget, but many are now on board. Millions in pet projects help. But for Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, the teacher raises have dramatically improved.

The state is spending $480 million on the raises, but in earlier drafts, teachers had to wait until June 1, 2014 to get their raises and they were tied directly to merit. But that language has since been amended, allowing the raises to be issued earlier and leaving it up to school districts and unions to determine how to distribute the raises.

“Most of the budget looks good,” said Danish, who is a teacher himself. “Some of the worst problems have been taken out of it. There are still things in the budget I don’t like, but overall, it’s the best we can hope for.”

[Last modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 8:41pm]

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