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    House approves a budget

    Final passage is next. Ahead: a dustup with the Senate over its plan, containing tax changes Speaker Feeney calls ''fanciful.''

    By ANITA KUMAR and ALISA ULFERTS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 2, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida House tentatively passed its $48.5-billion budget Friday but came no closer to resolving a dispute with the Senate over a $900-million plan to raise taxes for education.

    Nonetheless, House Speaker Tom Feeney predicted that the Senate "will come around" before the session ends March 22. If it doesn't, Feeney said, there's little point going through the traditional "conference" the chambers hold to iron out differences in their budgets.

    "We have to pass a realistic budget. We can't pass a fanciful budget," said Feeney, R-Oviedo.

    And a fanciful budget, according to Feeney, is one that includes the Senate plan to use $880-million gained by phasing out tax breaks for things like stadium boxes, tanning booths and lobbying and consulting services.

    But a spokeswoman for Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, said the two chambers have had vast differences before and reached a middle ground.

    "This is not anything that's insurmountable," Karen Chandler said.

    The House is scheduled for a final vote on its budget Tuesday. The Senate likely will follow a week later with its $48.8-billion budget.

    The House plan spends a little more than $15-billion on education, $17-billion on health and human services and $3.5-billion on the criminal justice system.

    The House restores $80-million for the state's Medicaid Medically Needy program that was cut last year, but advocates for the sick and disabled have said that amount is not nearly enough. The Medically Needy program is for people who have suffered a catastrophic illness or injury and have used up their own insurance but don't qualify for regular Medicaid.

    "We are giving a lot," said Rep. Sandy Murman, the Tampa Republican in charge of social services spending. "We will not focus on what we are not giving. We are doing a lot. Don't let anyone kid you about that."

    Democrats proposed several amendments to shift millions from road projects to pay for smaller classes, teachers' salaries and other education programs, but all were killed by Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the House 77-43.

    "This education budget is plain terrible," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. "Nobody down here seems to want to listen. . . . I hope we can stop fighting amongst ourselves and . . . find more revenue to invest in our children's future."

    But Rep. Evelyn Lynn, the Ormond Beach Republican in charge of school spending, said the House did just that.

    "We have come up with a budget we can be proud of," Lynn said. "Many of you may ask, 'Is this enough money?' . . . It may not be all that we desire. However, it is a good budget and a serious budget without a tax increase."

    Democrats also tried to restore the $12-million the state had agreed to spend to replace antiquated voting machines and to educate voters. After the 2000 election fiasco, lawmakers last year agreed to spread $32-million over two years. They set aside $20-million last year. The rest would come this year. But the original House budget did not include any money.

    "We promised we would never relive the debacle of the 2000 election," said Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "I was amazed and shocked when I . . . didn't see a dime for elections. Today we have a chance to fix it."

    Instead, members agreed to spend $2.5-million and emphasized that counties already have begun voter education.

    -- Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

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