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Education leaders give soft endorsement to Crist's gambling approach

Crist and educators on compact Florida's top education leaders stood behind Gov. Charlie Crist and his $100 million a year gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, saying that the reliable nature of the money is desparately needed for education in these uncertain times.

None of the educators, however, weighed in on whether they preferred Crist's approach to the House plan, which strips the tribe of its black jack and table games but gives them slot machines or the Senate plan, which gives them full casinos. But the governor did.

"We're talking about the original compact. That's what the we're interested in. What the tribe is interested in and those dollars are what education is interested in,'' Crist said.

"Our budget goal this year was very simple: it was no more layoffs and no more cuts,'' said Wayne Blanton, head of the Florida School Boards Association. "We cannot have an adequate education budget without the infusion of dollars that this compact would present for education in Florida this year.''

Bill Montford, head of the Florida Superintendent's Association said his organization was "supportive of the governor's approach.''

"We believe that this is the right thing to do regardless of your position on all the issues that are there,'' he said. "We firmly support it and we believe that this is the best way to address these needs."

The legislature's economists raised doubts this week about whether the governor's projection that the Seminole compact could yield $288 million into next year's budget next year. Crist was asked if the tribe would be willing to guarantee any money up front to make sure lawmakers could count on the money when building its budget. The governor didn't respond.

"Obviously there is some fluidity in the closing days of the session,'' he said. "Because of the court ruling, we are appealing to the members of the House and the Senate to approve the opportunity to have a compact with a tribe. To me, the obvious point is we will have more money for educaiton if that is done and if it's not done, we will not. And if it is not done by this Legislature.''

He warned that if lawmakers fail to approve a compact this session, the federal government could step in and give them slot machines only "and the people of Floirda and the studnets of Florida don't get a dime. And that would be a shame,'' Crist said.

Jim Allen, president of the tribe's gambling operations would not comment on the revenue projections either. 

"We believe that the compact that was negotiated previously is the state's position -- from the governor's office and from the tribe,'' he said. "We're going to work with the House and Senate to get to the finish line.''