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Florida Legislators Stuff Budget With Millions For Projects

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) —  Florida Legislators are saying there is only so much money to go around and it's not enough when it comes to making a new state budget.

State workers, for example, aren't getting a raise. There's no money for new judges to handle the growing number of cases in the courts. There's more money for schools, but most of it is coming from an increase in local property taxes.

And there's a chance that Florida's hospitals could lose more than $1 billion that is now used to help them pay for treating the poor and uninsured.

"At the end of the day there's only so much money to go around," said Rep. Ben Albritton, one of the top House Republicans who oversees one of the budget committees.

But there's money for hometown projects. A lot of it.

Legislators have been able to secure line items in the initial House and Senate budgets for everything from money for a New Smyrna Beach surfing museum to money to help buy the Marion County house where Depression-era fugitive Ma Barker was shot and killed.

There's money for a rodeo facility in Arcadia, $1 million for a manatee hospital at a Tampa zoo, $500,000 to renovate a marine stadium that would be used for a South Florida boat show, as well as line items for a naval ship museum in Jacksonville and a seawall in Cocoa Beach.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli defended legislators pushing to add money for local projects into the budget.

"Members have an opportunity to be part of any budget," said Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican. "A lot of these things are important to them back at home."

In the last few years, it's been hard to track the source of funding requests. But this year House leaders required legislators in that chamber to fill out detailed forms.

Those documents show that House members asked for more than $2.9 billion in spending requests. The budget that the Florida House is expected to vote out on Thursday sets aside nearly $544 million for member requests. The Senate does not have a similar tracking system.

The House requests, however, show that Republicans fared better in winning approval for their pet projects in the House budget.

Crisafulli, for example, was successful in gaining approval of funding for a Brevard County sheriff's office project, $1.5 million for the expansion of a veterans memorial center and $2.5 million for the seawall in Cocoa Beach.

The big question is how many of the projects will remain when the final budget is passed by state legislators.

The Senate on Wednesday passed its $80.4 billion budget, while the House budget is nearly $76.2 billion. The two chambers have a "chasm" in spending because the Senate budget assumes that Florida will draw down billions in extra federal aid.

The Senate budget includes more than $2 billion for hospitals that will replace the current "low-income pool." The federal government has told the state that the money for hospitals will expire later this year. The Senate budget also would expand health care coverage to roughly 800,000 Floridians and draw down money linked to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Senate Republicans have maintained it will be hard to negotiate a final budget with House Republicans if it includes large cuts to hospitals.

Senate President Andy Gardiner went further, warning that "everything will be on the table" including money for hometown projects if money from the federal government is gone.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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