Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Candidates Volley over Education

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Candidates Volley over Education

Article excerpt

Democrat Buddy MacKay says he wants to stop the "lottery

ripoff." Republican Jeb Bush says MacKay is offering an

"outrageous" plan.

Either way, MacKay's proposal this week to spend an additional

$1.3 billion on Florida's schools could turn into a major issue

as MacKay and Bush battle for the governor's job.

Frank Brogan, Bush's running mate, took a shot at MacKay

yesterday when he called a news conference to say the plan falls

nearly $500 million short of its goal. That goal is to make sure

education receives 40 percent of the state budget, the same

share it received before the Florida Lottery started in the

1980s.

Brogan, the education commissioner since 1994, said MacKay

underestimated the amount of money needed to meet the goal. He

said the state would need to spend about $1.78 billion, an

amount that could force cuts in such things as prisons and

programs for senior citizens.

"Buddy MacKay's proposal to increase spending on education is

fiscal irresponsibility at its worst -- the numbers simply don't

add up," Brogan said. "Buddy MacKay is giving the voters of

Florida, I believe, two choices: outrageously higher taxes or

devastating cutbacks."

MacKay fired back, saying Brogan's numbers are "terribly

flawed." He also accused the Republicans of trying to pit

education against other needs, such as caring for senior

citizens.

"We cannot allow Republicans to force us into thinking we have

to choose between our children and our elders," MacKay said.

"That is unacceptable."

The disagreement comes down to a difference in the way each

side calculates education's share of the budget. Bush doesn't

include federal and lottery dollars in his calculations. MacKay

doesn't include federal and lottery dollars, along with items

that he says are counted twice in the budget.

MacKay, who announced his plan Tuesday, said the increases

could be made without raising taxes or making major cuts in

programs. He said government can find savings in its operations,

while also taking steps such as pulling in $200 million a year

in uncollected sales taxes.

While MacKay's plan says the state needs to spend an additional

$1.3 billion this fiscal year on education, a campaign

spokeswoman acknowledged that likely won't happen.

The only way it could happen is for MacKay to find the $1.3

billion and receive legislative approval. Since MacKay wouldn't

take office until January, which is halfway through the state's

fiscal year, that likely wouldn't be possible.

Michelle Kucera, the campaign spokeswoman, said MacKay's goal

is to reach the 40 percent level as quickly as possible in his

first term.

The plan would reverse a highly unpopular move by lawmakers to

divert lottery money from its stated purpose of enhancing

education. …

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