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Highly partisan House praises, pans budget

The Legislature is never more partisan than when it is debating the state budget, and that was certainly the case Friday on the floor of the House.

In a battle of scripted talking points, the Republican majority defended the $69.7-billion no-new-taxes budget as fiscally responsible in extremely difficult economic times, while Democrats called it cruel to the middle class, government workers and public school teachers.

"The good news is, we're not straddling our citizens with new debt," said Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. "That's why we're sent up here: to pass a balanced budget."

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, cited monstrous budget shortfalls in Texas, New York, New Jersey and California, and said: "I only look at one poll, and that's the one in November ... Elections matter. Republicans ran on a platform and said we are not going to raise taxes and we are going to get government out of your pocketbook." 

Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the House majority leader, said: "We have balanced our budget, our constitutional duty, without raising taxes."

Democrats called the budget cruel to the middle class and public sector workers, and harped on the 8-percent cut in public education, which sends K-12 funding to its lowest level in six years.

"Yes, this is a difficult budget and yes, choices need to be made," said Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg. "But unfortunately, once again, the Legislature has chosen big business and lobbyists over the middle class and public sector workers."

"It's a Tea Party train wreck," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, blasted the inclusion of $5-million for a regatta center in Sarasota and $6-million for Panhandle economic relief for counties hurt by the BP oil spill -- neither of which House leaders could justify as legitimate expenditures, he said. 

The budget eliminates 4,500 state jobs, about 1,300 of which are currently filled, said Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, the House's chief budget-writer.

-- Steve Bousquet