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In the Florida Senate, new signs of discord

Things are not going well in Mike Haridopolos' Senate. New signs of discord emerged Tuesday in what began as a routine review of the $8-billion-plus budget proposal in the Tourism & Economic Development Subcommittee. The senatorial anger and frustration is aimed at leadership, but the target happened to be Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, who chairs the 15-member panel.

The Senate is advancing its budget more than a week after the House did, and senators are forced to play catch-up.

"What's the rush?" asked Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton. "I don't see that we have to rush this through without asking questions."

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wondered why money for housing assistance is eliminated in the budget proposal, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed with him. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the "rumor mill" has it that the budget will be sent to budget chief JD Alexander as a recommendation. Benacquisto abruptly stopped her review of the budget and spent the rest of an hour-long meeting fielding questions.

Latvala asked Benacquisto a point-blank question: Will an upcoming conforming bill make the now-private Florida Housing Finance Corp. part of state government? She did not answer directly.

Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, wanted a detailed list of all member projects in this part of the budget -- "specific hometown appropriations," as he called them. Norman and others raised similar concerns after seeing line items favored by Sens. Andy Gardiner and Gary Siplin of Orlando. -- Steve Bousquet