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Chiles may save healthy start plan

Gov. Lawton Chiles delayed a decision Thursday to veto budget cuts including $4.4-million for the mother and baby medical care program he has advocated.

"There are many complicated legal issues involved," said Chiles' press secretary, Julie Anbender, announcing that a news conference called Thursday would be rescheduled for Friday.

The state House and Senate have sent Chiles legislation slashing spending to balance a $116.3-million drop in projected revenue through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Chiles intends to sign the bill but is considering line-item vetoes.

Cuts he may cancel include the money for the healthy start program for pregnant women and infants; smaller amounts for the Preservation 2000 program to preserve environmentally sensitive land; and another cut for a juvenile offender work camp program, Anbender said.

Money to keep the programs would come out of the state's working capital fund.

The governor didn't move to avoid slashing $28-million for a 3 percent state employee pay raise originally slated to start this weekend.

The raise will be a likely part of the bargaining as Chiles presses for $1.4-million in new revenue next fiscal year for areas such as schools, social services, corrections and the environment.

"That issue is one of a multitude of issues that will be raised again when we discuss the supplemental budget," Anbender said. "In our investment budget we've included a cost-of-living increase for all state workers, largely to offset a 17 percent increase in insurance premiums."

Florida's credit rating will remain unchanged despite the latest tax shortfall, according to Wall Street bond analysts who met with state financial officials Thursday.

"The outlook for Florida's full faith and credit rating remains stable, given the state's history of successfully closing budgetary gaps," Standard & Poor's Corp. concluded in its Creditweek report scheduled for release Monday.

Florida has a double A rating, with a stable outlook, according to the New York bond rating agency.

There are three grades above that level, but a double A is "very, very respectable," said Ed Montanaro, the Legislature's chief economist.