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Lawmakers relent on regents cuts after governor objects

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By TIM NICKENS and SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- This time they went too far.

A day after agreeing on a budget that would prevent the state Board of Regents from hiring new employees and force a 60 percent cutback over two years, Republican legislative leaders had a change of heart.

Under pressure from Gov. Jeb Bush and some regents, they started looking Wednesday for ways to undo the proposed cuts.

Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan met with Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, and other legislators to express the administration's displeasure with the cuts in the budget agreement. House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, who inserted the cuts into the budget deal, heard from Bush and Tom Petway, the regents' chairman.

"The governor did find it inappropriate and was disappointed in the cuts to the regents," Bush spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst said.

Legislators were reviewing their options. "We're working on some changes," Thrasher said. "There are some creative ways we can do it."

Republican legislators are still determined to abolish the 14-member Board of Regents, which oversees the state's 10 public universities, in 2003. That legislation, which Bush generally supports, is expected to be approved before lawmakers adjourn Friday.

But the immediate hiring freeze and deep cuts in personnel in the budget agreement came as a surprise when they were announced Tuesday. Some regents complained that it would be better to abolish their jobs immediately than to suffer a slow death.

Thrasher has denied that his aim is to seek retribution from the regents who fought his effort to open a medical school at his alma mater, Florida State University -- which is included in the budget deal. He also has said he is not trying to force out Chancellor Adam Herbert, who like Thrasher is from the Jacksonville area.

"I don't think he's really trying to punish the regents," Horne said of Thrasher. "There is a sense in the Legislature that we can't get them to move in the direction we want to move in."

Legislators will have to be creative to undo the proposed cuts. The language is part of the $50.9-billion budget agreement that can be approved or rejected in its entirety Friday -- but not amended.

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