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Vote will set stage for Florida legislators to work out a final budget

TALLAHASSEE — The budget dilemma that has hung over lawmakers for weeks takes center stage today, when the House is expected to pass its proposed budget. The Senate passed its version unanimously Thursday — $547 million and a world of ideology apart from the House.

The Republican-led chambers have very different views on expanded gambling, new taxes and fees, and budget cutting ideas such as salary cuts for state employees.

The House vote today sets the stage for final budget negotiations that could begin Monday, if not this weekend.

"I'm optimistic," said Senate President Jeff Atwater. "We have great respect for the House and the process they went through to get where they are."

Also today, the House will have what could be a lengthy debate on its conservative proposal for expanded gambling with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Senate is expected to take a final vote on its own gambling proposal, which is worth $800 million more in state revenues than the House plan.

Meanwhile, proposals to dramatically change Florida's home insurance industry and to significantly raise maximum tuition in the 11 state universities get their final Senate committee vote before moving to the floor for a vote.

The two insurance proposals (SB1950 and SB2036) would lift the rate freeze on the state-run Citizens Insurance and gradually reduce the state's hurricane exposure risk and would allow some large insurers such as State Farm to charge higher rates without state approval. The idea is to let the free market and consumer choice rule, while luring back big insurers like State Farm, which has announced plans to no longer insure property in the Sunshine State.

The university tuition bill, allowing universities to raise undergraduate rates a maximum of 15 percent each year to provide the institutions with more financial aid and academic resources, is one of Gov. Charlie Crist's priorities this session. But even with the higher tuition, universities are looking at their budgets for next year to shrink by anywhere from 9 to 24 percent.

"But it's hard for us to complain," said University of Florida president Bernie Machen. "Because if we didn't get the tuition, we'd be closing the doors."

Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at scolavecchio@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Vote will set stage for Florida legislators to work out a final budget 04/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:45pm]
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