BRADENTON, Fla. - Recognizing the difficult economic conditions ahead, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Tuesday night asked lawmakers to shed partisan differences and cooperate.

In his state of the state address before a joint session of the Legislature on opening day, the Republican Crist urged lawmakers to approve his $66.5 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2010, which includes $2.5 billion of debt.

"The strength of our state and national economies are being tested in ways not seen in decades," said Crist, noting that unemployment is at a 16-year high. "We are in a national housing crisis and foreclosures continue to rise, businesses are shutting their doors in the communities they have long served, and a weakened Wall Street has left us in a credit crunch that is cutting into hardworking families' nest eggs and college savings."

"Our people are struggling, as a state and as a nation," he continued. "And like never before, we have an obligation to serve them well."

Crist said his proposed budget would help the struggling state through the difficult time ahead. It includes using $4.7 billion from the recently passed federal economic stimulus bill to provide funding for education, transportation, unemployment compensation, renewable energy, and other aid.

"My administration looks forward to working with this Legislature, our cities, and counties to begin implementing these dollars quickly and efficiently," Crist said. He also announced that Don Winstead, deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, would be his special adviser to implement the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The governor once again urged the Legislature to quickly approve a compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe. Its approval would release at least $2.5 billion over 25 years for education, he said. Lawmakers, who disagreed with Crist's unilateral negotiation of the compact, are reviewing the agreement with the Seminoles.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before us now," Crist said, urging that lawmakers support the South Florida Water Management District's $1.34 billion purchase of U.S. Sugar Corp.'s land to help restore the Everglades.

The district plans to sell certificates of participation to acquire the land. However, bills have been filed that would require that a referendum be held before the COPs could be sold.

Crist touched on components of his budget, including $10 billion for infrastructure improvements in transportation and economic development, $21 billion for education, and more than $25 billion for health care.

The debt proposed by Crist for fiscal 2010 includes $714 million for transportation, $377 million for prison construction, $375 million for environmental programs, $304 million for schools and colleges, $227 million for the state's underground petroleum-tank cleanup program, and $130 million of infrastructure bank bonds.

The Florida Legislature's session runs though May 1.

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