BRADENTON, Fla. — The Florida Legislature Friday ended its annual session amid concern over the growing impact of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Before heading home, lawmakers completed work on a $70.4 billion budget for 2011, which is $3.9 billion over the current year.
The budget will be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist, who has not indicated if he will sign it or bring out his line-item veto pen.
The general fund portion of the budget relies, in part, on funds from a recently passed Indian gaming compact, more than $2 billion in federal stimulus funding allocated for use in fiscal 2011, and $600 million that otherwise would be dedicated to children’s health programs. It also dips into reserves of the Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies for a second year.
However, Crist is a proponent of using transportation projects as a way to stimulate job growth and political observers say he could use his veto power to stop transportation budget revenue from being tapped a second year in a row to support the general fund.
The total amount of bonds authorized in the new budget was not immediately available since legislative staff yesterday was still preparing the bill to be sent to Crist.
The fiscal 2011 budget reflects the economic realities Floridians are facing daily, Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said Friday after the session ended.
He said the budget was “built from scratch by separating desired spending from required spending.”
“We tackled tough decisions head on,” Atwater said, “and produced a balanced budget that funds critical services and protects Florida’s fiscal future.”
It is a major election year in Florida and Crist’s last budget as he seeks a U.S. Senate seat this fall. Running lower in the polls than his top challenger for the seat, Crist last week abdicated the Republican party and announced he would run as an independent.
There are more immediate fiscal concerns about the extent of the Gulf oil spill.
Some top Republicans had been studying the possibility of opening Florida’s coast to oil drilling as a way to enhance the budget in 2012, but that has been put on hold until all questions about the ongoing disaster are answered, they said.
Crist on Friday declared a state of emergency for six of the northernmost counties along Florida’s western coastline. On Monday, he extended the emergency declaration to another 13 west coast counties due to widespread concern about the extent of the potential damage.
The emergency declaration, which enables the state to qualify for increased federal funds, now covers all but three of Florida’s west coast counties.