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Senate warns of gloomier education budget

The relatively rosy picture a Florida Senate panel painted Friday for the state education budget quickly got gloomier Monday.

On Friday, Sen. David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Pre-K-12 budget subcommittee, had unveiled a preliminary proposal showing a 2.28 percent cut to education funding.

Monday, Simmons' plan was up to a 6.5 percent cut -- much closer to the 7.7 percent number the House put out last week, though still less than the 10 percent proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The larger cut is due to the $739 million in education funding the state would lose by requiring state employees to pay into their pensions. (Salaries expenses for the Department of Education would go down, too.)

Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who heads a pension reform panel, said the number was higher than he would be willing to support. The Senate has proposed that state employees pay about 2 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, less than the 5 percent Scott has asked for.

"It seems very glaring," Ring said. "This is the elephant in the room right now."

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she wants to avoid a "bumper sticker" saying lawmakers balanced the state budget "on the backs of teachers."

"We're really flying in the dark here," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. "Obviously there are going to be reductions. Maybe it won't look as good as we thought it could look."