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    Budget negotiations hit two more bumps

    Legislators make some progress but can't agree on a tax holiday or funding for an Alzheimer's center at USF.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 29, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE - Another day, another budget hang-up.

    As Senate President Jim King and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd labored Monday to make a deal on the state budget, two new snags arose: a $28-million back-to-school sales tax holiday and $45-million for an Alzheimer's research institute at the University of South Florida.

    The House wants both; the Senate doesn't.

    "There are still a couple of things that are problematic that could put everything in the ditch," King said.

    Both leaders agreed that the session will have to be extended at least through the middle of next week.

    Trading written offers and counteroffers without public discussion, Byrd and King did make headway on a variety of budget items while handing off others to lawmakers who will serve on a joint House-Senate conference committee. That committee could start work today.

    Byrd and King agreed to spend $130-million on pay raises for state workers, and they agreed to increase from $50-million to $88-million a corporate income tax break for donors of school vouchers for low-income students.

    The House also agreed to a Senate demand to eliminate projects in individual members' districts, known as "turkeys," that total about $300-million.

    It was probably inevitable that in the annual round of horse trading, senators would hold hostage one of Byrd's biggest priorities, an Alzheimer's center at USF.

    Byrd wants the money to go straight to the center, which the Legislature created last year at Byrd's behest. The center, still in the planning stages, will be run by a board of directors that includes Byrd and some of his close political allies.

    The Senate, however, wants to give other institutions a shot at the money. It would create a competitive bidding process open to "qualified Florida-based Alzheimer's research programs and institutions."

    But Byrd wasn't backing down.

    "We have to cure that disease. We don't have time to wait," said Byrd, whose father died of Alzheimer's in 1998.

    - Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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