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No tax hikes in Crist's proposal

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's deficit reduction plan is heavy on cutting spending, borrowing money and shifting funds, but it avoids tax and fee increases as well as employee furloughs and layoffs.

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The proposal Crist released Tuesday also adds $135-million as the state's share from expanded Seminole Indian gaming if lawmakers approve a deal with the tribe. That's something leaders of Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature generally oppose.

Otherwise, Crist said he thinks "we're on the same page and ready to roll."

Lawmakers are planning a special session next month to deal with a projected $2.3-billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Crist said he's also hopeful the federal government will include substantial aid to the states as part of a national economic stimulus package, but he said it's too early to include that in the plan.

"Obviously, we'll have reductions," Crist said. "We're going to have to utilize some trust funds because I don't like taxes."

One of the trust funds he wants to tap is the Lawton Chiles Endowment, which invests money from the state's tobacco settlement for future use on health programs for children and the elderly.

The endowment is down to about $1-billion, about half of what it was worth in June, due to the declining financial markets and current-year obligations. Crist wants to borrow $600-million from the endowment. Chiles' family opposes such a move.

Crist wants to "sweep" $325.3-million in reserves from trust funds and borrow money for prison construction to free up $314-million appropriated for that purpose. The Legislature, though, has been reluctant to spend such revenue to pay for recurring expenses.

Crist has a different perspective. "It's the taxpayers' money," he said. "It's in essence what you could call a rainy day fund and, economically, it's raining."

Crist also has proposed taking another $290-million out of general fund reserves built into the budget. In September, Crist and the Legislative Budget Commission tapped those reserves for $672-million — about half of the total.

No tax hikes in Crist's proposal 12/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 11:29am]

    

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