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Crist polishes first budget

He wants $245-million in new spending. Savings are anticipated at $700-million.

By STEVE BOUSQUET AND BILL ADAIR
Published March 25, 2007


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TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist has fine-tuned his first budget proposal, adding requests for a political institute at St. Petersburg College, civics classes in schools and the first TV camera operator in the governor's office.

All told, Crist has submitted $245-million in new requests. But they are more than offset by $700-million in anticipated savings due in part to lower-than-expected Medicaid caseloads and the decision to replace some tax revenue for education with income from heavily taxed slot machines in Broward County.

Crist needs the Legislature's approval to spend the public's money.

As a first-term governor enjoying an early wave of broad popularity, he will get most, if not all, of his wish list approved by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Crist requests an additional $85-million to build more than 4,000 more prison beds. That represents the first stage of a major prison buildup expected as a result of Crist's Anti-Murder Act targeting probation violators.

He also asked for $55-million so the state can meet new federal Medicare requirements, and $14-million to increase state support for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa.

Crist also requested $7.5-million to create an endowment for a government institute at St. Petersburg College in his hometown.

"It's necessary for educational purposes," Crist said.

He added that the project is a long-standing goal of college president Carl Kuttler and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

"If it's important to them, it's important to me," Crist said.

Kuttler said Young has agreed to be a leader of the institute, which has been in the talking stages since 2000. He envisioned visits by world leaders, hosting presidential debates and giving ethics seminars for elected officials in Florida.

"We've been dreaming," Kuttler said. "We see it as a place to train those who are interested in becoming ambassadors."

Crist's sister, Catherine Kennedy, is an administrator at SPC's College of Education, and Crist's regional office is located there as well.

Another $8-million is sought by Crist to make civics education mandatory in public schools, in a bipartisan initiative being spearheaded by former Sen. Bob Graham and former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey. The money includes the creation of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship.

The supplemental request includes $4-million to hire 54 more hotel and restaurant inspectors, and $3.3-million to increase funding for Healthy Start, a program that promotes healthy prenatal and birth care for mothers and infants.

Crist also has asked that the Legislature eliminate a $150,000 proposal to start a suicide prevention office in the state's Office of Drug Control. The suicide prevention initiative was a priority of outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush that Crist decided against.

Crist wants to spend $222,000 to create a three-person graphics department, including the first full-time videographer, or TV camera operator, in the Governor's Office.

That way, a spokeswoman said, Crist's speeches and statements can be put online for the public to view or made available to smaller TV stations.

"We believe in open government," Crist told a reporter. "You guys do a great job, but I think it could be augmented even more."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.


Crist's budget changes

Highlights of Gov. Charlie Crist's supplemental budget recommendations:

EXPENSES

More prison beds: $85-million.

Change Medicaid eligibility requirements: $55-million.

Increase state aid to Moffitt Cancer Center: $14-million.

Mandatory civics education in public schools: $8-million.

Institute of Government at St. Petersburg College: $7.5-million.

SAVINGS

Lower Medicaid caseload: $299-million.

Use slot machine revenue for recurring expenses: $143-million.

 

[Last modified March 24, 2007, 21:22:12]


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