Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$1B Boost for Schools? Cannon Mum; House Speaker Generally Supportive of Scott Budget, Funds for St. Johns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$1B Boost for Schools? Cannon Mum; House Speaker Generally Supportive of Scott Budget, Funds for St. Johns

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon is staying out of the way of House budget talks, has a new talking point for potential prison closures and said state funding for the St. Johns River is worth considering.

Those were a few of the topics Cannon, a Winter Park Republican, hit on during an interview Tuesday with the Times-Union.

He said Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $66.4 billion budget "reflects thoughtful policy choices" but was noncommittal on its biggest piece, giving school districts $1 billion more in taxpayer money than last year.

"Our goal in the House will be if possible hold it [education] harmless, and if possible give it an increase," said Cannon. He stressed that public schools need to be considered along with other areas like transportation and economic development.

He also is withholding judgment on Scott's proposal to wring $65 million in savings from the criminal justice system largely through shuttering prisons. He referred to prison closures as "reconfiguration."

"There is a role that reconfiguration and [prison] privatization play," he said. "We will have to wait and see what the individual committees and subcommittees recommend."

Last session, legislation was passed privatizing several South Florida prisons. The new law was challenged by the Police Benevolent Association, which represents more than 4,000 prison guards, and later tossed by Judge Jackie Fulford. The Legislature is appealing that ruling.

Lawmakers' budget last session included $10 million secured by state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, for the St. Johns River, which Scott later vetoed. Cannon would not comment on individual budget items but gave a mild verbal boost to river restoration.

"I will say that the St. Johns River and the kind of high-quality water bodies we have in Central Florida are important to take into consideration," Cannon said.

He did not hedge on the Florida GOP's decision to buck national party rules by moving its primary up to Jan. 31. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged in the polls in recent weeks, leading many observers to think that the GOP primary process will play out between him and former front-runner Mitt Romney well past Florida's primary. …

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