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1,500 open state jobs likely to disappear in Florida budget

TALLAHASSEE — Nearly 1,500 open state jobs could disappear after legislators in both chambers on Friday approved plans to plug a $2.4-billion budget hole by slashing spending and raiding special accounts.

The rival plans from the House and Senate have far more similarities than differences.

The House proposal would leave the state with a surplus of more than $400-million, while the Senate plan cuts $100-million shy of what's needed.

The Senate proposal makes far smaller cuts to social services and sweeps less from special accounts called trust funds.

Senate President Jeff Atwater said the numbers will change as the two chambers confer over the weekend. They'll likely agree next week on a final budget plan that has enough cushion to account for plummeting tax collections, which could put next year's budget about $4-billion in the red.

"It could be that severe by the time we begin looking at a July 1 start date for a new budget," Atwater said.

The two chambers cut education, environmental programs, transportation projects and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Lawmakers also are eliminating up to 1,450 open jobs.

Plant City Republican Rep. Rich Glorioso said lawmakers are trying to avoid firings.

"That's the last thing we need to do in this economy," he said.

One of the few beneficiaries during this special session: mid-sized businesses, who could take advantage of a loan program established with $10-million in seed money. Many Republicans said they wished they could spend more for the loan program.

Senate Democratic leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee called it corporate welfare. The budget proposals passed the chambers on party line votes.

To spare the court system deep cuts, lawmakers also are increasing a passel of traffic fines to raise about $15-million this year and $63-million next year.

Republican leaders rebuffed Democrats' call to debate raising cigarette taxes or close what they call loopholes in sales and real-estate taxes. Republicans say they'll debate those during the regular session in March.

There are two ways to calculate the budget cuts: Total and base-budget spending. Total spending includes all sources of money for the state — mainly federal grants — while base-budget spending is limited to general revenue from the state's major taxes.

In total spending, the House and Senate respectively cut $1.3-billion and $1.2-billion, which would lower the current year budget to about $65-billion — less than the 2006 budget.

Lawmakers, however, are cutting only about $1-billion in general revenue spending.

Those cuts are applied to the $2.4-billion deficit, which is in the general revenue portion of the budget. The remainder of the money comes from raiding savings accounts and trust funds.

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

1,500 open state jobs likely to disappear in Florida budget 01/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 8:38pm]
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