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House greets Crist budget chief with raised eyebrows

Democrats and Republicans on the House budget council on education and economic development are grilling Gov. Charlie Crist's budget chief on Crist's proposed $69.2 billion budget, and the tone of their questions isn't encouraging.

Crist's budget is a $3 billion increase from the current-year budget even though state economists predict a deficit of that much, and it leaves just $250 million in reserves. Lawmakers told Jerry McDaniel that they're concerned Crist's ever-sunny budget hinges on lots of maybe, which they consider to be not likely

Like maybe the federal government approves federal matching money to help cover Medicaid, and maybe the Legislature suddenly embraces the governor's gaming compact, and maybe the state won't face a hurricane or other expensive disaster that necessitates dipping into reserves.

I'm a glass half full kind of person, so I appreciate the governor's optimism," said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton. "But he really is making a lot of assumptions and little bit of a wish on a prayer that we are going to get some of this money."

Check out this exchange between Rep. Alan Hays and McDaniel:

Hays: "I consider this to be an unacceptable, low level of reserves," and he asked how the Governor would bail out Citizens state-run property insurance and the CAT fund in the event of a major storm.

McDaniel: "We haven't been hit by a major storm in some years, and every year that we don't get hit, we believe it leaves us in a better position."

Hays: "And in terms of the $433 million in compact money, what do you have underway to change the compact to make it acceptable to the Legislature?"

McDaniel: "Nothing is underway, but the governor wanted to keep the door open to some product...possibly in conjunction w the parimutuel industry. ...We do have $225 million sitting in the treasury at this moment."

Hays: "And do you plan to bring us different recommendations for a budget without compact money in it?"

McDaniel: "If the stimulus money doesn't materialize or the compact does shut down, I believe the governor would be willing to come forward."

Hays: "Do you think the governor would be willing to leave us with these low reserves if he were going to be around for another four years as governor?"

McDaniel: "Yes."

Rep. Denise Grimsely told McDaniel she will not craft a health care budget around the governor's assumption of FMAP money for Medicaid.

"I can't really use what you have to start my budget. It's like saying we'll go out and buy Christmas presents with a Christmas bonus we might get."