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    A Times Editorial

    Not their finest hour

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


    It is true, as Senate President John McKay remarked Monday, that there were many ways by which he could have brought the controversial career service bill to the Senate calendar. But it is also true that he chose the worst of those ways to do it. The motion to withdraw it from the appropriations committee, which needed a two-thirds vote, came after five Senate Democrats, including the leader of the opposition to the bill, had left Friday for the funeral of their former legislative colleague and close friend, Doug Jamerson. That the remaining Democrats failed to object to what seemed a routine motion doesn't justify it.

    That was not the Senate's finest hour. It marred what had been, for the previous eight weeks, a splendid record of bipartisanship. That wasn't worth the few hours of meeting time that the procedural shortcut spared the committee.

    "This chamber has been run more fairly than some of us wanted it to be run," said the Senate Republican Leader, Jim King. It is to be hoped he meant that as a compliment, not a complaint.

    * * *

    Meanwhile, House and Senate negotiators struck a budget deal soon enough to end the session on schedule this Friday, but nobody should be happy with it. It taps the Lawton Chiles cigarette settlement money in order to give the House leadership some yet-to-be-defined part of its top-priority intangibles tax cut. Considering who buys more cigarettes and who owns more taxable securities, that's a conspicuous income transfer from the poor to the rich.

    State university students will see their tuition increases outpace the inflation rate, there isn't enough money to assure safe care in nursing homes, and state employees will get a modest 2.5 percent raise but a sizeable 15 percent increase in their health insurance premiums. Legislators get their insurance free, by the way.

    The budget is supposed to be available in detail today on the Legislature's Web site, but citizens who might not like what they see need not bother to object. The House and Senate couldn't send the bill back to the conference committee because to change even a comma would delay adjournment for another 72 hours.

    It was with the best of intentions and the worst of results that the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission proposed this as an amendment to the Constitution in 1992. The idea behind this "72-hour public review process" was to prevent last-minute surprises. In practice, it merely makes the surprises come earlier and then insulates them. One of these years, someone really ought to fix that.

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