Legislators try to balance budget

The Florida State Legislature begins a special session today. Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order to have the session to decide the extent of budget cuts ranging from state agencies to universities. Bush called the special session because the state needs to balance its budget due to the lack of tourism in the state.The session will last for 11 days, but the legislature hopes to speed things along.

Since the order on Oct. 10, the state’s legislators have been meeting with each other to come up with a plan for the cuts. They will decide the extent of the budget cuts affecting the 11 state universities.

Kathy Betancourt, USF’s lobbyist, said there have been cuts, but everyone is in the process of negotiation.

“We want to make cuts fair, keep the home rule of money in control and keep tuition and fees at home as well,” she said.Betancourt also said the Legislature is moving in the direction of even cuts and all the state universities are working together. Yet, everything is still up in the air.

She said the House and the Senate cuts are apart on certain issues, and by the end of the week, the Legislature should have a ballpark idea on where the cuts will be made and how much.Originally, the Legislature told state agencies to look at the possibility of a 5 percent cut from their fiscal 2002-03 budgets. Five percent meant that $14.1 million would go to USF, so more than that could be expected now.

“Right now the Senate is at about 6.24 percent, and the House is a little higher,” she said.

The Legislature and the universities are looking at the standard things such as travel, equipment purchases and discretionary items to save money for the upcoming years.

According to Betancourt, on Friday, the legislature signed a package that included cut possibilities, and today there will be a bill printed, but the final decision still will not be made until later weeks.

“The Senate and the House are trying to agree on money they each have,” she said. “They haven’t agreed on the income.”

Betancourt said the Legislature has gone through item by item and gotten some numbers, but things are still negotiable.

“It doesn’t do any good to get married to those numbers,” she said.

  • Contact Stefanie Greenat oraclestefanie@yahoo.com