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Chiles should have sliced budget pork, Bush says

Published Sep. 13, 2005

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush didn't think it was odd when he criticized the state's Democratic governor Monday for not vetoing enough Republican pork.

The Republican-led Legislature got a little "overexuberant" when it came to funding local pet projects, Bush told the Times during a campaign swing through Pasco County.

But, he said, Gov. Lawton Chiles should have made it clear that such projects, commonly called turkeys, would not survive his veto pen.

"When you get all this money, it's kind of hard _ the whole incentive process is to bring home the bacon," Bush said. "The governor is the only one that can provide that discipline."

Chiles vetoed $96.2-million from the $45.3-billion budget passed by the Legislature this session, which ended Friday. While Republican legislators rejoiced that the cuts were "about average," in Speaker Daniel Webster's words, Bush said they didn't go deep enough.

By not vetoing more, Bush said, Chiles missed an opportunity "to help out the lieutenant governor" _ Democratic gubernatorial candidate Buddy MacKay, who is running against Bush.

Not that Bush, who enjoys a big lead in fund raising, is complaining.

Speaking to a crowd of Republicans at the Beacon Woods Civic Center, Bush said he was "running like I'm 10 points down . . . running scared and running hard" in an attempt to inoculate himself against what he said will likely be a "very negative campaign" by MacKay.

"When the attacks happen this time, hopefully people will shrug their shoulders and say, "I know this guy,' " Bush said.

Afterward, Bush said, he would not hesitate to point out MacKay's record. But he promised not to run any "push polls" _ a campaign tactic in which campaign workers, operating in the guise of pollsters, phone voters to disseminate negative information about political opponents.

Late in the 1994 campaign, the Chiles campaign used negative phone tactics against Bush in which older residents were told by a phony tax group that Bush was a tax cheat and that his running mate wanted to do away with Social Security and Medicare.

Other than the pet projects, Bush gave the Legislature a grade of A for approving a $50 property tax rebate, tax cuts, a law requiring parental notification if a minor wants an abortion and more funding for education.

Some voters questioned the Legislature's priorities, however. During a question-and-answer period at the Seven Springs Country Club, Carmel Lofaso, a retiree from New Port Richey, asked, "Instead of giving us $50, why didn't they increase money for schools?"

"This $50 tax break _ they can give it back if they don't want it," Bush answered. "I doubt there will be a lot of refunds, though."

During a tour of Pasco-Hernando Community College, Bush saw something that made him question at least one legislative priority. Community colleges received a 4 percent budget increase _ less than those given to the university system and to the public schools.

"I think that's wrong," Bush told college President Robert Judson, who brought it to Bush's attention. "Community colleges are the best, most efficient way of educating the greatest number of people."

Later, Bush showed Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the Republican House whip, the chart Judson gave him comparing the funding increases.

"That's a pretty big difference," Bush said.

Fasano began to protest. "We've always done pretty well for you all," he started to say to Judson.

"Don't be so sensitive," Bush interrupted, laughing.

For someone who is supposedly "running for his life," Bush seemed to be enjoying himself Monday. He joked with first- through fifth-graders at the private Genesis Elementary School, where he said things like "cool" in between talking about giving parents more school choice through a voucher system.

At the community college, he walked into the nurses' labs, where mannequins were lying in hospital beds. Before he walked over to them, he first checked to see whether there were any news photographers about.

Then he told a story about a kickoff campaign event, in which he arrived at a cosmetology school and was talked into getting a facial. That ended up being the photograph in the newspapers the next day, he said.

"This highly staged effort to highlight different messages of the campaign was completely blown," he said. "There's me with a hot towel over my head _ I'm totally out of control sometimes."