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Roads panel spins wheels

One said he was appalled. Another claimed to be insulted. And they all appeared frustrated, irritated and downright exasperated. More than 15 legislators met for more than 10 hours over two days looking for what one called transportation's promised land. On Tuesday morning, they called a temporary halt to the search.

After four failed attempts last year to raise more money to build more roads, legislators and Gov. Bob Martinez remain deadlocked. The committee of lawmakers that met this week will try again next month.

Try as they might, they have found no way around what they called the meat of the issue: Some Democrats want to raise the statewide gas tax as part of the package; the Republican governor promises to veto that.

Sen. Malcolm Beard, the Seffner Republican who is chairman of the committee, said endorsing a gas tax increase that Martinez won't accept "is just like shoveling snow against the wind."

Two Democrats still grabbed a shovel.

Rep. Mary Figg of Lutz noted that Martinez has some fee increases in his proposed state budget. She suggested adding 5.7 cents to the gasoline tax that the state collects statewide now and calling that a fee. She said a top Martinez aide did not reject it.

The Martinez aide, Peter Dunbar, said later that he even liked the idea. "I liked it because I thought it was humorous," he said.

Sen. Winston "Bud" Gardner of Titusville tried another innovative approach that no one completely understood. He called it the "2.5-cent statewide and 2.5-cent local-option match opt out."

Dunbar understood enough of it to reject it.

Unable to agree on gas taxes, the legislators spent hours tinkering with other parts of a transportation package. But in 10 hours of talking, they really didn't get anywhere.

Beard summed up the whole meeting even before the Democrats began shoveling snow into the wind: "Where we are is where we were, and if we do what we did, what we'll have is what we had. Which is nothing."

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