Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Relatively Rosy, with Thorns; Education Is Spared, but Funding Sources Aren't Clear

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Relatively Rosy, with Thorns; Education Is Spared, but Funding Sources Aren't Clear

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - Senate budget-writers unveiled a spending proposal Wednesday that leaves education largely unscathed, tapping billions of dollars from the federal stimulus package, a proposed gambling compact with the Seminole tribe and unspecified tax increases.

Senators would spare both public education's classroom spending formula - on a per student basis - and higher educations' core programs from the budget knife in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, while dealing out a 15 percent cut to areas such as state administration and payments to private colleges. But the plan does continue the funding cuts to schools and universities in this year's budget, approved during a special session in January.

After expecting a gruesome round of cuts, some lawmakers were visibly relieved by the numbers handed down by Senate leaders.

"I am amazed that our cut allocation is as good as it is," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville. "This is proof positive that it can be done."

Practicality aside, the politics of the budget could be another story. The rosy numbers included almost $300 million from the Seminole gambling compact, as yet unapproved; billions from the federal stimulus bill, though some of that money is still in doubt; and a package of tax increases that are so far nameless and, to an extent, dimensionless.

The House GOP has proved far less enthusiastic about raising cigarette taxes or eliminating sales tax exemptions, expected to be the major components of any Senate tax bill. House leaders also have sounded more hesitant about embracing stimulus dollars.

"I see the proposal and I like the numbers at the end," said Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah. "I just hope we can get there. ... This would be one of the most difficult accomplishments that this body has done in a long time."

A one-penny increase in the state sales tax, favored by the education groups and some Senate Republicans, though not included in the upper chamber's budget, also is likely to rankle some in the House. …

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