- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

MIAMI, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Tuesday pointed proudly to his budget as more solid than most in the United States, but warned the good news won't last forever because paying for a class-size reduction plan would be expensive.

Bush placed a $2.8 billion price tag over the next eight years on the constitutional amendment approved by voters in November. It would limit classes to 18 students through the third grade, 22 through 8th grade and 25 students through 12th by 2010.

Bush, who opposed the amendment, did not lay out the class-limit cost for the first year, but it will be worked out when the Legislature convenes in March.

Overall, educational appropriations in the fiscal year beginning July 1 would increase by $899 billion, or 6.8 percent. He said there was a price for the increases, although no tax increases will be required.

State universities will be cut by $111 million and Bush is recommending tuition increases of more than 7 percent.

"While this year's budget continues to fund state priorities, the class-size amendment is taking its toll — university and college spending are one example," Bush said in his annual budget address.

"Its impact on future budgets will be even more severe, creating across the board cuts, significant tax increases and potentially forcing our state to tax and spend itself into a deficit situation currently experienced by other states across the country," he said.

Another problem is the high-speed rail project from Miami to Orlando to Tampa approved by the voters in 2000. Bush is trying to get private industry to pick up most of the cost, and warned if it becomes too much of a burden on the state, he will try to repeal it.

Florida is projected to end the current fiscal year with a $140 million surplus in the general fund and $960 million in its "rainy day" fund.

Most other states are experiencing budget deficits as high as 20 percent. The governor said the collective state budget shortfall is expected to be $45 billion this year.

In his speech, Bush noted that fiscal discipline, including spending restraint, vetoing special bills for individual legislators known as turkeys, and reducing bureaucracy were instrumental in the state's success.

He also credited a doubling of the state's reserves as well as tax cuts for the success of the nation's fourth-largest state.

"I'm proud that Florida is one of the few places in the country that will see increases in education, child welfare and services for the elderly," Bush said. "At the same time, cost pressures related to the constitutional amendments as well as a still recovering economy, will force us to make some very difficult choices.

"What is perhaps most concerning is the bleak budget forecast brought upon us by the need to implement Amendment 9 (classroom deductions), high-speed rail and other voter-mandated initiatives beginning next year," he said.

The budget also includes a $1.1 billion for health and human services in an effort to help the beleaguered Department of Children and Families. A tax holiday, which was eliminated last year, was restored.

Healthcare spending for serious illnesses was cut, however, as were programs for young prison inmates.


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