© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2003
You might say the fighting has begun.
We are midway into January and the House and Senate are taking potshots at each other.
It's all about money. And egos. Republicans vs. Democrats and the Senate vs. the House.
Next week Gov. Jeb Bush will offer his version of the state's $50-billion budget. In a speech this week, Bush suggested the news is not as bad as everyone expects. Bush and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd say the state's needs will be met without new taxes.
Senate President Jim King has doubts. And he came pretty close to making fun of the governor by suggesting it would be a "miracle" budget. King says the Senate number crunchers believe the state will have to make some serious cuts in services it provides to some of its neediest residents unless it finds a way to increase revenue.
Everyone is dancing around the tax question -- everyone except King, who says the state may have to find a way to raise new revenue. He's already said he's willing to allow video lottery terminals at state horse and dog tracks so the state can collect more tax money.
The Democrats in the House and Senate -- long accused of being ready to tax everything that moves -- can't quite decide where they are on this issue.
At a joint press conference Thursday, Sen. Ron Klein, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, said: "We don't believe we have to raise taxes."
Seconds later, Rep. Doug Wiles, the Democratic leader in the House said: "We aren't saying we don't need new taxes."
The Legislature's internal battle has quickly turned personal. King believes the House rejected millions of dollars in federal grant money for a women's heart disease awareness program because it was his pet project. Byrd says that isn't true. But as of Friday the two leaders had yet to discuss it.
So far you would have to declare King the winner -- on rhetoric alone. Who else but King could come up with: "I would only hope that the olive branch that I'm offering isn't used to whip me to death."
A strange distance seems to be rising between the two legislative leaders and the governor.
When asked if he'd talked to the governor lately, King said Thursday he has not seen or talked to the governor since he was inaugurated Jan. 7. King hasn't talked to Byrd either. They have all been in the same building this week, communicating through comments to reporters instead of directly.
The Legislature convenes March 4. It could be a long session.
Speaking of money, the fundraising has begun, too. The ink is barely dry on the 2002 ballot and lawmakers already are sending out fundraising letters.
This week lobbyists received appeals from Reps. Connie Mack, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Randy Johnson, R-Celebration.
Mack opened a campaign account Jan. 2 and Johnson opened his on Tuesday -- about the same time he sent out announcements of an early February fundraiser.
Mack's letter seeking contributions invites donors to become members of the "Friends of Connie H. Mack Leadership Club," whatever that is. But for a mere $300 to $500 donation, you too can be a member and get a nice red, white and blue card showing you are a sustaining member for 2003. Staying in the club will require another donation in 2004.
Mack, the son of former Sen. Connie Mack, is obviously aiming for higher office but insists he's just seeking re-election to the House for now.
"I'm asking people to be a part of the campaign," Mack said.
So far only the only senator to open a re-election account is Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon. Eight members of the house have opened accounts. It's a long time until November 2004.