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Chiles vetoes 3 cuts

Gov. Lawton Chiles used his veto pen Friday to accelerate the debate over raising taxes.

He wants to raise taxes by $1.3-billion next year. The Florida Legislature, embroiled in election year politics over new political boundaries, has strongly resisted.

Chiles' action Friday restored three programs the Legislature had cut out of the current year's budget to make up a deficit. He scolded the Legislature for raiding the state's "rainy day fund" to balance the budget. And he denounced a maneuver to borrow from state investments as budget trickery.

"I recommend they fish or cut bait," Chiles said. "They either make the cuts, which they keep saying are available to be made, or they face up to the fact that they're not there to be made, and they raise revenue."

Don't look for taxes to go up any time soon.

Chiles has been pounding the podium for his tax package ever since he presented an "investment budget" last month that would provide more money for schools, health care, children's welfare, prisons and the environment.

He wants to lift sales tax exemptions on services, enact a $200 flat tax on corporations that pay nothing now, reduce the amount of interest corporations can deduct on their state taxes and institute a 2.5 percent tax on water, sewer, garbage and cable TV.

Whether he gets any of that, much less the full $1.3-billion menu, is much in doubt in the Legislature. The House will begin looking at some taxes next week. But in the Senate, an anti-tax bloc of Republicans and conservative Democrats may have the power to block any new taxes. Senate Republicans say raising taxes will impede economic recovery.

Whether the fight comes right away or during budget-making for the next fiscal year, Chiles remains immovable. He wants taxes.

Sitting at a desk decorated by a big pink piggy bank, Chiles warned against spending the reserves down during hard times when more financial emergencies could arise.

"It's like this piggy bank," he said. "You don't break into the bank and spend your last dime, but the Legislature asked us to do that. . . . What do we do between now and July 1st if it rains again?"

Chiles' taxes would finance programs in the 1992-93 budget year beginning July 1. But because things are bad now and more money is needed for the reserves, aides suggested, some taxes should be passed right away.

House Democratic leaders said they plan to begin looking at taxes next week. But they made no commitments on whether they can pass them.

"I've got a lot of people that want to spend it," said House Speaker T.K. Wetherell. "But not that many want to raise it."

He said schoolteachers have suggested they need $900-million to get back to where they were last July, before the recession caused a series of budget cuts. That's too high, Wetherell said. House Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Abrams said he is looking at a package of about $500-million for schools.

Chiles' line-item vetoes restored financing in the current year for three programs:

A segment of the governor's Healthy Start initiative. The program, which will cost $4.17-million this fiscal year and $28.8-million in 1992-93, expands Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and infants, serving 9,300 women and their babies.

Sumter County work camp. The $700,000 work camp would house non-violent felons, leaving more room for violent criminals in prison. It would cost $3.3-million a year to operate.

A 90-bed drug treatment facility. The $418,000 pilot project also is designed to reserve prison space for the most violent offenders. It would cost $1.6-million next year.

The vetoes brought a mild response from Democratic leaders in the Legislature. They said they didn't want to make those cuts, either, and wouldn't try to override Chiles' veto.

Chiles also vetoed language that transferred $50-million from the rainy day fund to general revenue. That doesn't matter, said House Appropriations Chairman Ron Saunders, D-Key West. When the Legislature appropriates money, the spending automatically draws down the reserves if the general revenues are depleted.

"It's my understanding we don't have to do anything further this year," said Wetherell, D-Daytona Beach. Saunders and Senate Appropriations Chairman Winston "Bud" Gardner, D-Titusville, agreed. They said they expect no attempt to find $50-million more in cuts or raise taxes right away to put the money back.

But Saunders said the House may try in the next few weeks to come up with a tax that could go into effect before the fiscal year is over, by April 1, for instance. That money then could be channeled into the reserves.

"There's reason to be concerned," Wetherell said. "We're cutting it close. We're right on the edge."

Chiles stopped in at a Healthy Start training seminar in Tampa on Friday to pound home his message.

The program, scheduled to start April 1, was set up to reduce infant mortality and the number of low birth weight babies throughout the state.

"Without a broader tax base in this state, we'll never save the dollars with preventive programs we know we could save," Chiles told the gathering of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

"Without a balanced budget, we'll never cut our infant mortality rate like we know we could, by providing comprehensive prenatal care."

_ Correspondent Teresa D. Brown contributed to this report.