State Politics

Fla. Senate adopts $65.6B budget

MANATEE — It’s a whirlwind in Tallahassee as the Florida Legislature moves into the home stretch, with little more than two weeks to adjournment on May 1.

The Florida Senate unanimously passed a $65.6 billion budget proposal Thursday while the House of Representatives debated a budget that would spend $549 million less. The House is expected to vote on its budget measures today, with joint conference committees slated to convene Monday to resolve differences.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, was happy with the Senate effort in a year plagued by recession and diminished sources of money.

“I got elected in 2000, and today was the very first time I saw a member of the minority party (Democrats) ask his members to vote with the Republicans,” said Bennett. “We all voted this out unanimously as a Committee of One. Everybody — Republican, Democrat, independent, everybody — recognized we were having an extremely difficult time cutting the budget.”

“It was brutal, we included everybody all the way through, included members of both parties, with discussions above-board, we did the best we could,” said Bennett.

“I’m happy it’s been an open, fair process, very, very tough process, a lot people got hurt. ...We tried to spread the pain as evenly as we could.”

Bennett predicted an effort in the state House of Representatives to ask voters to change class-size requirements would die there.

“It doesn’t appear anybody wants to take it on,” in the Senate, Bennett said. The Senate would have to pass a companion measure for the plan to succeed.

Wednesday, Bennett met with Gov. Charlie Crist to discuss growth management legislation and the governor’s plan to buy land to protect the environmentally delicate Everglades.

Asked what the timbre of the conversation had been, Bennett replied it had been friendly.

“One thing I know about the governor, even when I disagree with him, we always treat each other with respect,” Bennett said, adding, “He treated me very graciously.”

As he sat in the antechamber Wednesday waiting for the governor to appear, he noted in a phone conversation that a growth management bill he’s sponsoring, S.B. 360, “was agreed upon by everyone.”

He said he was unfamiliar with another bill that came before a Senate committee Thursday, Senate Bill 956, calling for changes in election law.

Sending e-mail blasts in opposition to it Thursday was Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, who called it “an absolute horrendous bill.”

“This bill is really anti-voter in so many ways,” she said. “What this does is it disenfranchises voters in several ways, puts more restrictions on the types of I.D.s that voters can use at the polls.”

“What they’re trying to do is put all power about elections in the hands of the state, particularly of the secretary of state, who is a partisan political appointee,” she noted, adding that the bill would remove power from county supervisors of election and give it to a state official.

Also Thursday, the Senate approved an amendment providing a recurring appropriation for the continued development of baccalaureate programs at Manatee Community College, now renamed State College of Florida, as well as for other community colleges, according to The News Service of Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at