Bush stays home to tend the budget
By ALISA ULFERTS
© St. Petersburg Times,
TALLAHASSEE -- Two storms, one brewing over the state budget and the other over the Caribbean, persuaded Gov. Jeb Bush to drop plans for next week's trade mission to Spain.
Hurricane Michelle is strengthening and could threaten Florida later this weekend. But Bush said Friday the clouds have begun to lift over the Legislature as leaders begin peace talks to plug a $1.3-billion hole in the budget.
"My hope is that we will have an agreement early next week," Bush said. He added that there has been "much progress made" in bringing the two sides closer together and that a second special session would be more "cooperative, collegial" than the first.
Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, and Rep. Carlos Lacasa, R-Miami, are heading the talks, not Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney. That's because Carlton and Lacasa are the top budget crafters, not because of any rifts between Feeney and McKay, Bush said.
"A general agreement was within their reach" and likely would have appeared if lawmakers had more time, Bush said. Earlier this week, the Republican-led Legislature approved a plan that made $800-million in cuts toward the $1.3-billion shortfall. But a disagreement between the House and Senate over whether to repeal an investment tax cut forced an early end to the special session and produced a budget plan most said would fall short.
McKay wanted to repeal the cut, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, and use the resulting $128-million in revenue to soften the cuts. But Feeney refused to go along with even a delay in the tax cut.
House Majority Leader Jerry Maygarden said Friday he suspects the House may have to compromise on that.
"If I were to speculate, I think we'll be in a delay posture," said Maygarden, R-Pensacola.
Senate Majority Leader Jim King said he thinks a second special session could wrap up in as few as four days once a basic agreement is struck on on how much to cut and how to end the session.
Although he still plans to let House and Senate leaders work out their own plan, Bush said he will step in and offer his own plan if talks fail.
Bush was criticized for heeding legislative leaders' request that he not draft specific guidelines to help lawmakers cut the budget, and for planning an overseas trip during the budget crisis.
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch said he was little comforted by Bush's decision to stay home. "Jeb can be in Tallahassee, but the real test and the real question is where is his leadership," Welch said.
Bush said no poll or consultant advised him to cancel his Spain trip. Promoting Florida is a part of his job he does especially well, Bush said, and he was disappointed he had to forgo that this time.
"I would shun political advice that would suggest I not do my job," he said.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire