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With $1 billion more for schools, education conferees hand keys to budget bosses

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Budget conferees working on education — the biggest-ticket item in the state’s $74-billion-plus spending plan — effectively abandoned efforts late Monday toward reaching a final agreement.

The House’s push for 6 percent college and university tuition increases, and the Senate’s demand that state scholarship programs including Bright Futures funding avoid any cuts were among a handful of areas dividing House and Senate negotiators.

Public school funding does look generally on track to receive slighly more than a $1 billion funding increase next fall. Gov. Rick Scott had sought a $1.2 billion increase, that had initially been matched by the Senate.

“We made a good faith effort…and I thought we could get there,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the House’s lead negotiator on schools, after a final round of talks yielded no overall agreement late Monday.

Scott and the Senate are rejecting any talk of tuition increases. And the House earlier reduced its 6 percent demand to 4 percent — only to ratchet its tuition proposal back up to 6 percent in its final offer as it sought agreement in other education areas.

Fresen’s counterpart, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the two sides had settled plenty of lesser matters. But big policy differences still divide lawmakers.

Next stop: Budget chairs, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, will take a stab at the work for a few days, beginning tomorrow evening. They’ll have a chance to rope into their deal-making a wide range of spending differences in environmental, economic development and health and human service programs.

Lawmakers have to button-up the budget by early next week for the session to conclude on time, May 3.

Casino bills filed

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Rep. Erik Fresen today filed a suite of highly-anticipated gaming bills that would allow three high-end casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The 142-page plan(HB 487) creates a seven-member gaming commission and a new state agency – the Department of Gaming Control -that would be responsible for oversight of all gambling ventures in the state except the lottery. Under Fresen’s proposal, the gaming commission would choose who can open casinos in Florida, selecting up to three vendors who promise to bring jobs to the state and spend at least $2 billion, not including the price of the property, to develop and build the “destination resorts.” Bidders would pay $50 million to apply.

Fresen, R-Miami, and Senate sponsor Ellyn Bogdanoff told The Palm Beach Post yesterday that it’s time for lawmakers to step up to the plate and establish a gaming vision for the state instead of the hodge-podge approach gambling-leery lawmakers have taken for decades.

“This is about creating a strategic direction for gaming,” Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, said in a meeting with The Post’s editorial board yesterday evening. “Nobody has taken hold of the gaming issue because nobody wants to touch it. We are an anti-gaming legislature that refuses to deal with this holistically.”

The push for the casinos has spurred the revival of the dormant No Casinos Inc., headed by Orlando PR consultant John Sowinski. Sowinski is joining forces with businesses, faith-based groups and law enforcement officials opposed to the casino proposition.

After the bill was filed, Sowinski issued a press release asking lawmakers to look into a federal investigation into Las Vegas Sands, which is pushing the casino proposal. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department in March opened an investigation involving the gambling giant’s Macau’s casinos.

“It’s time to ask the tough questions, not fast-track legislation to build the biggest casinos in the world here in Florida,” Sowinski said in a statement. “Legislators should learn more about this investigation before moving a bill forward. They should also learn more about the enormous social and economic costs that mega-casinos would add to Florida taxpayers’ burden.”

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