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Crist budget hunt turns up c.$300m. $1.8b to go

Call the quest to plug the current-year budget hole a $2.1 billion scavenger hunt. The budget gurus in the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist's shop are turning over every rock in the budget and scouring savings accounts and have so far turned up a possible $300 million more in unspent/unappropriated money in trust funds.

Not bad. But it ain't enough. It seems almost nothing is. Consider:

If (a not-so-big if) lawmakers add that $300m to the $672m left in the budget stabilization fund, then the deficit is $1.128b.

Then there's the matter of the so-called "hold backs" of agency budgets of 4 percent. Estimates vary. But $500m ain't bad. So now the deficit is $628 million.

Other options?

Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund: Cull even more money from the once-robust annuity that now has about $1.12b. Doing so would infuriate the former governor's family, Democrats and good-government types who question the wisdom of cashing in stock when the market is bottoming out.

Budget cuts: Don't expect all $628m to come from budget cuts. The year is half over. So every dollar cut is doubled in effect, meaning the cuts could have the force of $1.35b in cuts. Expect layoffs.

Road sales: Expect the push to privatise roads to increase.

Bonds for cash: If the state can find favorable terms, it could bond some of its cash-funded construction projects.

Fee increases: Anyone doing business with the state should get ready to pay more. But revenue (tax?) increases (if they come) would more likely come in the regular session, rather than the special session slated for sometime in January.

**Update: We forgot the Seminole gambling compact, which the The Orlando Sentinel notes today in a report that says other options include merging state agencies, cutting Medicaid, cutting back on prison construction in favor of erecting modular buildings, foregoing some land purchases.

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