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    Governor frets over legislative stalemate

    So far, no substantial bills have reached his desk since the session began last month.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 27, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Life in the Capitol "is not all gridlock, food fights and personality disorders," Gov. Jeb Bush assured visitors from Jacksonville on Tuesday.

    Still, Bush later acknowledged to reporters that he sees little movement in the stalemate between the House and the Senate over Senate President John McKay's plan to overhaul taxes.

    And he worries that the stalemate will become a public relations problem for Republicans around Florida, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Lee said.

    Lee, R-Brandon, said he sees no sign that the stalemate will end soon.

    Not a single substantial bill has been sent to the governor since the Legislature began its 60-day session on Jan. 22.

    The two chambers have sent him six inconsequential bills. Four delete obsolete language in state law, one exempts certain port records from public disclosure and the sixth allows nurse practitioners to sign paperwork for the issuance of handicapped parking permits.

    Still awaiting action: a $50-billion budget, the redrawing of lines for all legislative and congressional districts, reorganizing the state's banking and insurance regulations and dozens of other important issues.

    As if to underscore Bush's concerns about the public relations problem facing Republicans, McKay was confronted by one of the visitors from Jacksonville as he tried to persuade them to support his plan.

    "As a Republican, if we stand on one issue and don't accomplish anything else, Republicans won't be looked on as good leaders," said Cindy Burgin, the Republican committeewoman for Duval County. "I think it is time to move on."

    Bush certainly agrees and met with three legislative leaders to discuss the situation: Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, Rules Chairman Lee and Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

    Bush opposes a Senate proposal to increase local tax rates to raise $640-million, Carlton and Pruitt said. The governor seems to be pinning his hopes on a possible increase in sales tax revenue from an improved economy.

    "There won't be a tax increase, that's pretty clear," Bush said. "I'd hate to see members of the Senate be asked to increase taxes if we are getting additional revenue."

    McKay insists that his tax plan is still alive despite the House's rejection of it last week by a 99-0 vote.

    Several senators said McKay is looking at several possible strategies, including putting a tax overhaul in a budget bill. McKay didn't deny it.

    "Anything is possible," he said.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, and Bush have said they would consider repealing some sales tax exemptions but oppose the wholesale tax reform bill McKay wants.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk