The Florida Legislature will try to balance the state's checkbook during a rescheduled special session in Tallahassee next month after Republican leaders said Thursday they're close to an agreement that would eliminate a $1.5 billion shortfall.
Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio announced jointly that the agenda for the Oct. 3 to 12 session will be set next week, but noted "significant progress has been made to establish a general framework for reducing state spending."
However, Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, said he was told no parameters had been agreed to but that GOP leaders were confident they were close enough to a deal to call the session.
"It's very clear to me they have not reached any final decisions," Geller said. "To my understanding, this is a legislative agreement that has been reached that has had minimal input from the governor."
Geller also said Republicans must also find some more money, because Democrats will not agree to any deal that just cuts services.
"We're not prepared to balance the budget in this state on the backs of the youngest and oldest, the sickest and poorest, and the students of the state," Geller said.
He did, however, recognize that a sizable portion of the cuts will be made in the education arena.
Geller also said he applauds Gov. Charlie Crist's willingness to consider some expansion in gambling to bring in some additional cash to pay the bills.
The state and the Seminole Tribe are in negotiations on what type of gambling the tribe can offer in a deal that could mean $50 million immediately and at least $100 million a year for the state. Rubio and other House Republican leaders, though, have said they would oppose any expansion of gambling.
Without budget cuts or new taxes - an unlikely option for the Republican-controlled Legislature - the shortfall would increase to $2.5 billion in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2008.
The Legislature needs to cut the state's $71 billion budget as the state's tax revenues are expected to have a $1.1 billion shortfall in the current budget year, which began July 1. Lawmakers also will contend with nearly a $400 million shortfall carried over from 2006-07.
Earlier this month, Pruitt and Rubio canceled a special session that would have started next week, saying they and Crist had not agreed on a basic framework for cutting Florida's budget.
"I am pleased to hear of the recent progress in the Legislature. I am encouraged and look forward to working with them to balance Florida's budget as state law requires," Crist said in a statement Thursday.
Pruitt, of Port St. Lucie, and Rubio, of West Miami, did not say if the Legislature would also deal with the state's no-fault insurance system, which is set to expire Oct. 1, or any other non-budget issues.