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Crist proposes $69.2 billion budget -- a $3 billion boost

Gov. Charlie Crist's bottom line for his fourth budget: $69.2 billion -- up from the $66.5 billion passed last year.

The budget revives Florida Forever, with a $50 million increase, includes $10 million in new teaacher bonus money, $3 million for "economic gardening" incentives for small business and $2.8 million to reduce class size, and $100 million in new university money -- and, Crist said, includes no layoffs or raises.

The proposed spending plan also includes $100 million in tax relief, including a 10-day back to school sales tax holiday and a reduction of the corporate income tax of $57 million, or 1 percent on the first $1 million of corporate income. He puts $55 million in the the KidCare health insurance program and $9.1 million to help 3000 families adopt children with special needs.

But legislators have already warned it's a budget built on wisps and whims. Senate President Jeff Atwater told reporters on Wednesday that Atwater he agreed with Crist's proposal to tap the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund again. But he does not agree with Crist in reliance on the Seminole Tribe's gaming compact with the state to help public schools. The Legislature has refused to approve Crist's proposal for a gaming compact.

"As much as I would like to see us try again, the reality of this moment, that I think I could use that as a revenue source, doesn't exist for me," Atwater said. "We're going to deal with the facts as we see them: We have less revenue."

Crist brought his budget chief Jerry McDaniel to the podium and said he would ask the first question: "I want you to explain with all these priorities how you came up with this budget?"

McDaniel: "That is the million dollar question, the billion dollar question." He said $4 billion of federal stimulus money is embedded into the budget.

"We're going to assume we sustain the medicaid matching percentage which is going to provide $1 billion to our state budget...We believe that is going to pass at the federal level." The rest of the money comes from state reserves (including $230 million from the Lawton Chiles endowment) and the Florida gaming compact. "We are very aware of where the House is. It's early in the game,'' he said.

"We are confident. It may not be the exact compact we negotiated three years ago,'' Crist said. "Reading between the lines, if you will, is some sort of hybrid between the compact and helping the parimutuel industry in Florida.''

McDaniel noted the current compact has $225 million sitting in Florida's treasury and "if we're in a budget crisis it's there for the taking.''

He said the budget growth is not increasing government but the growth of Medicaid, which accounts for 2.7 percent increase.