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    Key senators cite gaps in Bush budget

    The governor underfunds programs, say lawmakers who oversee school and social services spending.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 16, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Two key senators attacked Gov. Jeb Bush's spending plan Friday, saying it has the potential to be "one of the worst" budgets ever.

    Sens. Don Sullivan, the St. Petersburg Republican overseeing school spending, and Ron Silver, the North Miami Democrat who holds the purse strings for social services, highlighted the differences between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican governor.

    Silver and Sullivan say Bush's plan ignores some federally required programs and doesn't fully fund others, which is why they can't afford to earmark as much as Bush did for education and other programs. They also said Bush is counting on federal money they don't think will come through.

    "We started out with $285-million less" overall in the budget, Silver said.

    Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur declined to discuss specifics, but said the differences in the budget will be worked out in coming weeks.

    "Obviously, we have some differences in our priorities," Baur said. She acknowledged there may be more news conferences before it's over.

    Silver said Bush's budget underfunds some key Medicaid programs, including programs for mental health services. The Senate plan would restore some of the programs lawmakers cut last year, including a program for adult hearing, visual and and dental care, without a required co-pay as Bush proposes.

    The struggle to find common ground "is no different than in years past but this year it's exacerbated because of lack of money," Silver said.

    Sullivan's committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, rejected its own budget plan this week and plans to ask Senate President John McKay to require local districts to raise taxes.

    Bush and House Speaker Tom Feeney oppose that idea.

    "We believe we've identified a huge problem in the way education is funded," Sullivan said. Lawmakers are waiting for March 8, the day state economists gather to estimate how much money is coming into the state.

    No matter how much that is, it won't be enough, Sullivan said.

    The House and the Senate are expected to finish their budget proposals in the next couple of weeks.

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