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Lawmakers must putbudget before politics

Florida’s budget could spell big changes for higher education and the rest of the state, but the Legislature does not seem to be handling the budgeting process with appropriate seriousness.

The Senate passed its version of the budget Wednesday, and the House will vote today, but with more than a $1 billion difference between the two, the partisan bickering that has marred this Legislative session will likely continue.

The Senate passed a bill related to the budget that would revamp the popular Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program. Qualification standards would be raised, and students who lost their scholarship because of low grades would no longer be eligible for reinstatement.

Clearly, college students have a vested interest in how the budget and associated bills are handled. Florida legislators, however, are more interested in partisan stunts and pork-barrel spending for their districts in advance of the election season.

Rep. Ron Saunders (D-Key West) filed an amendment to rename a transportation bill the “Job Killer Act of 2010” because it cut funding to road projects. Saunders could have voiced his dissent in a more appropriate manner, rather than wasting the House’s time filing a joke amendment.

Not to be outdone, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R-Delray Beach) proposed an amendment to rename the bill, “Protecting Healthcare and Education Funding Act of 2010.”

With billions of dollars on the line, Congressmen should not be tacking on joke amendments, even if today is April Fools’ Day.

Though the Senate passed its version of the budget, some Senators tried to bog it down with earmarks. Sen. Mike Fasano wanted $750,000 for a community hurricane shelter named in his honor. Sen. Victor Crist of Tampa wanted $1 million for improvements to Turkey Creek Road.

The ridiculous partisanship that’s gripped Washington this year seems to have infected Florida as well. Sen. Dan Gelber said to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the last time the Legislature was this charged may have been during the 2000 election recount.

“I do feel the issues are nationalized as they were then, and that you could cut through the partisanship with a knife,” Gelber said.

This year is gearing up to be an important election season, and many Congressmen have campaigning on their mind. Students and other voters should pay careful attention to the session. Getting re-elected should not be a higher priority than doing a good job.