Florida Gov. Crist blocks gun license funding sweep
(SUN SENTINAL) Gov. Charlie Crist signed a $66.5 billion budget Wednesday. Overall, the budget is propped up by more than $5.6 billion in stimulus dollars including money for one-time expenditures, like road construction — and $2 billion in higher taxes and fees. The $1 billion in new and increased fees means you’ll pay more to renew your driver’s license and register your car, and to file a lawsuit. College students will pay more to take required tests; prisoners will pay more for health care; so will people who fish off piers or surf cast. Smokers will pay an additional $1-per-pack tax up from 34 cents now — to raise more than $900 million. The budget also tasks courts to keep more non-violent offenders out of prisons, and allows the state Department of Corrections to negotiate with counties and other states to take prisoners if prisons get over-crowded. Crist vetoed two items he had been heavily lobbied on: a 2 percent pay cut for state employees making more than $45,000 annually, to save $25 million; and a $6 million raid on a fund that pays for issuing gun permits. Both presented potentially thorny issues to the first-term governor, who has announced he’s running for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Gun-rights groups bombarded his office with more than 25,000 complaints. And state workers, unions, and their Democratic allies pressed the governor to block the pay cut. Crist said both cuts were unneeded and state agencies could adjust their spending to do without the roughly $31 million lost by the vetoes. The pay cut would have affected roughly 28,000 of the state’s 120,000-plus state workers, and there is some question whether the governor can legally veto the budget language imposing the cut without also vetoing how that money would have been spent, which is scattered throughout the budget.