ATLANTA - Following Gov. Lawton Chiles's veto Friday of a $30.9 billion state budget that failed to raise Florida taxes, state legislators yesterday began another attempt at passing a spending plan.
Lawmakers were motivated by signs that Mr. Chiles is prepared to soften his insistence on $1.35 billion in new levies.
According to one legislative aide in the House of Representatives, Mr. Chiles in meetings held over the weekend with legislators said he will not consider a budget that includes $486 million in new revenues.
Mr. Chiles stipulated that the increases should be accomplished by revenue reform that widens the state's sales taxes and lowers its property tax, the aide said.
The aide said that the House leadership is willing to pass a $486 million package as long as $100 million of it is derived from increases in fees. The remainder would be raised through increases in sales and other taxes.
A spokesman for Gov. Chiles yesterday declined comment on a possible compromise with the legislature. She did say, however, that in advance of today's deadline, Mr. Chiles is prepared to sign an executive order that would shut down nonessential state services beginning July 1 if a budget is not in place. The "fiscal emergency" order would include closure of the state lottery.
Mr. Chiles had previously warned legislators that he would veto any budget that did not include all $1.35 billion in new taxes proposed as part of his "Fair Share" plan unveiled last month. This plan would broaden the state sales taxes to cover services not now taxes in exchange for a reduction in sales and property tax rates. The overall tax increase was necessary to prevent devastating cutbacks in services, according to Mr. Chiles.
"The House leadership pretty much has an agreement with the governor," said the aide, who declined to be identified. "The problem is in the Senate," he continued, "and there it looks like $286 million is the upper limit."
Lawmakers must reach an agreement by today by midnight, when the current budget year ends or the state will face the prospect of the shutdown of most services. Florida's constitution stipulates that a budget must be signed before any money is spent.
Last Friday, following House approval of a non-new-taxes budget passed by the Senate on Wednesday, Gov. Chiles vetoed the lawmakers' spending package. The Senate then failed to muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override the veto.
Gov. Chiles's rejection of the lawmakers' budget last week follows his veto in March of an earlier no-new-taxes spending plan passed by the legislature during its regular session. During that session the governor had sought a limited broadening of the state's tax base, but had not included a reduction in the sales tax rate.
"Despite the best efforts of many members of each house," Gov. Chiles said in his veto message last week, "I still have not been presented with a [budget] that I can recommend to our fellow citizens." Justifying his call for a tax increase, he said "If we fail to invest now, we will do damage that cannot easily be undone and that will prove far more costly in future years."