State Politics

GOP lawmakers say Gov. Crist overly optimistic

BY MARC CAPUTO

Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Warning, Charlie Crist. Your rose-colored view of the world is now a punch line among fellow Republicans.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander has posted a sign at the entrance to his chamber’s appropriations offices: “BUDGET CHAIRMAN’S WARNING. Please Remove All Standard Issue E.O.G. [Executive Office of the Governor] Rose Colored Glasses Prior to Entering Suite. Failure to do so May Cause Severe Economic Pain to the People of Florida.”

Fastened to the sign: three pairs of rose-tinted sunglasses.

Is the sign meant as a thumb-in-the-eye for Crist? “A little bit,” admitted Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Crist, typically, found something to cheer about in the sign.

“I’m encouraged the senator has a sense of humor, especially during these economic times,” Crist said. “I think it’s important to do so.”

Did the governor feel mocked? Crist smiled: “No.”

Even so, the message may be hitting home. Crist has increasingly begun acknowledging the difficult economic times of his state.

Though he still ducks questions about budget cuts and possible tax or fee increases he’d support, Crist is starting to send subtle signals about some revenue increases and spending reductions he would be willing to accept.

On Tuesday, for example, Crist wouldn’t rule out supporting some tax increases though he wouldn’t specify which ones.

Crist’s relationship with legislators grew strained after he vetoed cuts during a January budget-cutting session; Alexander and others thought Crist had supported the trims. Many thought Crist broke his word, which the governor denied. Relations worsened in February when Crist proposed next year’s budget. It failed to account adequately for the deteriorating economy. And it relied heavily on the federal stimulus money as the answer for the state’s financial woes.

Now the state has a $3 billion budget deficit — with the stimulus money.

The Senate’s Alexander says the only way out is “a mix of cuts and new revenues.” In other words, tax and fee increases. But House Republicans leaders say they are opposed to tax hikes. If Crist doesn’t step in and break the log jam, senators fear it could make for a session that won’t end May 1.

Alexander suggested the governor should do a better job using the “bully pulpit’’ of his office. He said he wishes Crist would be “more forthright’’ about the state’s financial crisis.

But, he joked, he has already netted something tangible from the sign over his office door: a growing pile of rose-colored glasses from the governor’s staff.

“They saw the light. And they surrendered their glasses,” he deadpanned. “I’ve got a few thousand yet to go. But I got three of them.”

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

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