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Crist agrees to Chiles endowment fund concessions

While Gov. Charlie Crist will not back off his plan to take $600 million from the Lawton Chiles Endowment to plug the state’s budget deficit, he has agreed to three concessions this afternoon to help restore and preserve the fund in the future, according to attorney Steve Yerrid of Tampa, who met Crist this afternoon.

“Gov. Crist agreed it was vitally important to save the Chiles Endowment; that’s a first,” said Yerrid. “Second, he agreed to immediately appoint new members to the advisory council that oversees the fund. That council no longer exists because members’ terms were allowed to expire without new appointments being made in 2005 under Gov. Jeb Bush. Third, Crist is confident that Congress will pass an economic stimulus package that will help Florida, and the first dollar that comes to Florida will be put back into the endowment to repay the $600 million he wants to take out. Those are major concessions.”

Yerrid wants those provisions in writing. The Tampa attorney and member of the legal team that got a settlement from tobacco companies in 1999, which helped create the endowment, met with the Democratic House caucus as well, urging them to make sure the governor’s promises are written in the budget bill.

“I’ve learned over the years that promises from politicians are not very bankable,” said Yerrid, who was involved in original negotiations about the fund with legislators and Gov. Jeb Bush.

Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, accompanied Yerrid on his visits with lawmakers in Tallahassee, said Bernie Campbell, spokesman for the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund petition drive to stop lawmakers from dipping into the fund.

“There is a deep well of concern,” said Campbell. “This fund was put together in perpetuity to look at long-term needs of children and the elderly. It was a dedicated fund that was supposed to be protected.”