TALLAHASSEE — Times aren't so bad. Just ask Gov. Charlie Crist or his friend, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Tucked into Florida's proposed $66-billion state budget is $2.5-million for a St. Petersburg College institute expected to be named for and eventually led by Young, R-Indian Shores.
Funding for the C.W. Bill Young Institute of Government comes through a mechanism Young, 77, knows well as one of Congress' senior budget writers: the last-minute budget earmark.
The line item surfaced for the first time this week in the final budget compromise. It was in neither the House nor Senate budget proposals.
In the context of a $66-billion budget, $2.5-million is not much money. But the project is among the few Crist budget recommendations that was fully funded by the Legislature.
And it comes in a year when health care for the poor and public schools will see dramatic cuts and the state is eliminating programs such as planting roadside trees and shrubbery.
"That's the consistent inconsistency of the budget process," said Karen Woodall, a longtime champion of health care programs.
Crist said the money for the institute is a valid purpose because it helps higher education and Young has steered many millions of dollars to Tampa Bay in nearly four decades in Congress.
"I could not be happier," he said. "Bill Young has done so much for the state I live in and for our country."
Young's former right-hand man, Clearwater Vice Mayor George Cretekos, said Wednesday he has been approached by college president Carl Kuttler about working part time at the institute, which also received a $5-million state grant last year.
"I've worked all year with leadership," Kuttler said of key lawmakers. "The ideas we have are unbelievable."
Kuttler said he wants to offer ethics and public records training to thousands of gubernatorial appointees and run a school for presidential ambassadors, but that some ideas will have to wait "until Bill gets here."
Young, who earns $169,300 in Congress, is running for re-election this fall. The institute, in Seminole, is in the same building as Young's district congressional office. Crist has a branch office at the college's St. Petersburg campus.
While the institute got the money it wanted, many other Crist priorities were shunned by lawmakers facing a $3.2-billion drop in state revenue, including a token pay raise for state workers, $15-million to support families that adopt foster children and $100-million for physical education in middle schools.
Other governor's requests were funded at much-reduced levels, from drug and alcohol abuse for prison inmates to Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors and dentists.
Legislators also eliminated 199 full-time probation officer positions in the Department of Corrections.
The explanation most often given for the cuts was that the state simply didn't have the money.
At the same time, the budget includes other earmarks:
• $87-million for a new 2,000-bed private prison.
• $7.5-million to build a connector road to improve access to a new airport in Bay County, a priority of the St. Joe Company, the state's largest private landowner.
• $700,000 for a study of the need for a commuter rail in the Tampa Bay area and between Miami and the city of South Bay on Lake Okeechobee.
• $500,000 for a pilot project to study bridge monitoring by remote sensors.
• $400,000 for a public awareness program to warn Floridians about unlicensed real estate agents.
Times staff writer Mike Donila
contributed to this report.
Steve Bousquet can be reached
or (850) 224-7263.