Crist Signs Budget, Gets Criticism; NOT 'BROAD-BASED' Tax Increases Will Hit the Minority, Not the Majority, Crist Says. INCREASED CHARGE the Budget Raises the Fees for Driver's Licenses and Court Filings

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist signed a $66.5 billion budget including about $2 billion in tax and fee increases Wednesday, at the same time vetoing a required 2 percent cut for the highest-earning state employees.

The budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, melds $5.3 billion in federal stimulus money, targeted cuts to state services and a near-quadrupling of the cigarette tax to balance the state's checkbook in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But Crist, working to fend off former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary, defended the new revenue in the budget, arguing that the tax increases were not "broad-based." For example, he said, the cigarette tax increase would raise almost $1 billion but hit fewer than 2 million out of 20 million Floridians.

"It's broad-based if it's a majority, clearly, so it's not broad-based if it's less than that," Crist said.

Democrats criticized some of the new revenues included in the budget, which also raises fees for driver's licenses and court filings.

"The budget puts to use new federal economic stimulus dollars championed by Democrats, but it does far too little to meaningfully stimulate the economy or create jobs and is built on the backs of smokers, gamblers and motorists," House Minority Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, said in a statement following the signing.

Meanwhile, Crist portrayed his veto of the pay cuts as a way to shore up the state's sagging economy.

"These 28,000 people and their families are consumers, too, and I wanted them to continue to have the ability to make purchases and help stimulate Florida's economy for everyone," he said.

The pay cuts would slice 2 percent from the salaries of any state employee earning more than $45,000 a year. State agencies should instead look for another way to cut the $56 million the salary reductions were expected to save, Crist said.

The state Constitution requires that any line-item veto of "proviso language" has to be paired with a veto of the funds attached to the proviso, which in this case were difficult to isolate. The governor said he had legal advice saying his veto met the standard. …

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