Florida budget talks stall, take break for weekend

TALLAHASSEE — Hopes for a smooth and timely end to the 60-day lawmaking session faded Friday as top Republicans failed to reach the broadest of agreements on a proposed state budget next year.

After a day of negotiations, Senate President Jeff Atwater sent his members home for the weekend. House Speaker Larry Cretul did the same.

Atwater said budget talks were positive but unproductive. He acknowledged it would be very difficult to approve a budget by May 1, the end of the 60-day lawmaking session.

The major hangups: the House's demand that the Senate agree to making big cuts to state-worker pay, a transportation fund and higher education in order to sock away more money in future years.

The two budgets are about $547 million apart. The fate of spending on every state government service — schools, health care, prisons, courts, transportation — hangs in the balance. The budget year begins July 1.

The gridlock calls into question the optimistic statements of Republican leaders — and Gov. Charlie Crist — that they'll finish their work on time. If they don't, they'll have to call a special session or extend the current one.

Crist has spent little time engaging legislators. As the House and Senate drifted apart, he called legislators to offer encouragement. Not much more.

"The governor's conversations have been: 'Let's keep working. Let's keep the conversations going.' (He) just checks in," Atwater said. "But, no. He has not tried to offer suggestions or consider how this thing should be appropriately worked through."

Crist, who said he felt positive earlier Friday, sounded a more sour note later that evening.

When told that some legislators believe it's more important to take more time and be deliberative than meet the May 1 deadline, Crist said: "Well, we've had eight weeks."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

Florida budget talks stall, take break for weekend 04/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 10:26pm]

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