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Monday, April 18, 2011

In Florida nothing for schools and libraries, plenty for pork

From the orlando Sentinel

by Aaron Deslatte

It may be a historically bad budget year for public employees, teachers, environmental programs and Medicaid patients, but lawmakers are nonetheless finding ways to tuck hometown projects in the budget.

In fact, Florida senators have tucked $39 million more for college construction than the Department of Education had approved on its property work-list. The Florida college system's request list for new construction projects submitted in January totaled $88 million. The version senators approved in April totaled $127 million.

The list of projects that were funded but not asked for include $15 million for a "Public Safety Institute" at Brevard Community College in the district of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

Haridopolos spokesman David Bishop said this week his boss didn't request the money.

"He totally removes himself from the process so he doesn't have questions like this asked," Bishop said, adding that Haridopolos "is not the only senator who represents Brevard County," and that he had less incentive to bring home pork-barrel projects because "he's not running for re-election in his district."

Haridopolos is running for the U.S. Senate, making the appearance of stuffing "turkeys" into a spending plan that otherwise slashes $4 billion all the more potentially toxic. And his past ties to Brevard Community College, where he was a professor and was paid $152,000 to write a textbook on politics, have been widely criticized.

Another $10.4 million is budgeted for renovations and a theater center at Daytona State College in the district of Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. And $12.2 million would go to the home turf of Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, for Polk State College in Winter Haven.

Senators say the projects aren't "turkeys" because they were requested last year, but vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. The House takes the opposite tack, including only $26.7 million for public-education maintenance projects.

"We will look at and resolve this issue publicly, during the conference process," said Katie Betta, spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who advised his members this week to plan on staying a week past the scheduled May 6 adjournment.

Voting bill riles Democrats

Speaking of Cannon, the speaker is taking some heat over a 151-page elections bill that has surfaced in the second-half of the 60-day session that places new restrictions on voter-registration groups.

College Democrats accused Cannon and the sponsor of HB 1355, Dennis Baxley of Ocala, of "college vote-killing" by proposing tighter restrictions ranging from not allowing voters to change their address when they cast ballots to banning video around polling stations and cracking down on voter-registration groups.

"We want everybody to vote that's registered to vote. But voting isn't a registration event; it's a voting event," Baxley said.

Cannon's district includes the University of Central Florida, where Democrats registered more than 10,000 voters before the 2008 elections and then swamped UCF's polling places on Election Day. College Democrats say the bill's restrictions would hit them the hardest.

"This legislation would literally disenfranchise Floridians, limit voters' access to the polls, and basically make it a criminal act to register someone to vote in the state of Florida," said Florida Democratic Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.

But Cannon, who is term-limited and hasn't said what other office he might seek in 2012, doesn't sound too worried. His spokeswoman called the complaints "a cheap political stunt, devoid of fact and typical of the Democrat playbook." or 850-222-5564. Follow him on Twitter @adeslatte.

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