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    Bush lobbies to line up Senate votes

    The governor wants Republicans to kill a budget proposal that ties ending tax breaks to education spending.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 5, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- One by one, a dozen Republican senators were summoned to Gov. Jeb Bush's office Monday in an aggressive strategy to kill the Senate's budget proposal.

    The Senate leadership's effort to link a one-year repeal of nearly $1-billion in sales tax breaks to an increase in education spending -- the brainchild of two Pinellas County senators -- faces a critical vote Thursday.

    "He was expressing his opinion, that this is a billion-dollar tax increase," said a Bush spokeswoman, Lisa Gates. "They have a responsible budget recommended to them and they can do the right thing."

    Bush and House Speaker Tom Feeney already have criticized the Senate budget as a tax increase. But on Monday, Bush shifted into high gear, personally lobbying senators to vote against their party's leaders.

    "From the governor's point of view, this thing is dead, so the question is, how long do you prolong the agony?" said Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, one of those called to Bush's first-floor Capitol suite. "He views this as hurting the Senate and the Republican Party."

    Burt, a candidate for attorney general, has always been opposed to Senate President John McKay's tax revision plan.

    Bush's official schedule offered few clues as to his lobbying effort. A 90-minute block of time was described as "member meeting time."

    "The governor is working the Republicans," Burt said. "What they'd like to do is get 20 votes. If it's 20-20, it dies."

    Sens. Don Sullivan, R-St. Petersburg, Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, and others have devised a plan that calls for repealing nearly $1-billion in sales tax breaks for one year, with the new money going to education. The tax break repeals are sprinkled throughout the budget senators will vote on Thursday.

    Democrats could prove extremely important to the outcome. Thirteen of the 15 Senate Democrats voted for McKay's original plan for a 25 percent rollback in the state sales tax tied to a new tax on dozens of services. If all 13 remained in McKay's corner, he would need eight Republicans to eke out a 21-19 vote.

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