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Clock is ticking as Florida Senate, House begin work today on a budget agreement

TALLAHASSEE — Having wrestled with their respective budgets late last week, the House and Senate return today to begin what should be intense negotiations over a final product.

The budget conference process was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., but Sunday afternoon, leaders said it would be delayed. The Senate suggested the meeting be scrapped because the two chambers aren't yet in sync on a bottom line.

"We will continue to work with our Senate partners and will notify you when we have further information," House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, wrote in a memo.

But sometime early this week, the posturing has to end, and budget leaders have to agree on a series of questions:

How big a cigarette tax increase? How much more gambling? How much money will be swept from trust funds — the single-purpose accounts for affordable housing and road building?

The task is especially difficult this year with an estimated $3 billion revenue shortfall. The House on Friday approved its $65 billion spending plan, but the vote was largely on party lines, with Democrats opposed.

The Senate on Thursday passed its spending plan unanimously. It spends nearly $550 million more than the House.

Also Monday, the Senate will take up the controversial proposal to ask voters to scale back the class-size amendment.

The House passed the plan on a largely partisan vote, with Democrats opposed because they fear it will hurt school funding.

The plan puts a constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot that halts class-size compliance at the school average, while raising the maximum number of students per classroom.

Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Clock is ticking as Florida Senate, House begin work today on a budget agreement 04/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 8:44am]

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