Haridopolos warns of budget cuts in session opener

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Senate President Mike Haridopolos opened the 2012 legislative session Tuesday by touting major bills that passed last year — but warning that lawmakers again face tough budget decisions that will lead to cuts in “beloved” programs, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, left open the possibility of delaying approval of the 2012-13 budget until after the scheduled March 9 end of the legislative session, an idea he has floated in recent weeks. But Haridopolos said he would look to other senators for input about such a delay, which he says would help ensure lawmakers have accurate budget estimates.

House leaders have not shown interest in delaying passage of the budget, and Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he is confident the session will end in 60 days. Haridopolos said he is “not arrogant enough to be a one-way street” on the issue and will ask senators how they want to handle it.

“It is the budget that is the ultimate policy document that we want to be thorough and accurate,” he said.

By some estimates, lawmakers could face a budget shortfall of up to $2 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget and the once-a-decade redistricting process will be the most-crucial issues of the session.

Haridopolos said Tuesday he expects the Senate to pass its redistricting plans next week.

During the speech, Haridopolos did not focus on hot-button issues such as revamping the personal-injury protection auto insurance system or approving “destination” resort casinos.

But he praised senators for passing major legislation during the 2011 session. That included overhauling Medicaid, making changes in public schools and cracking down on prescription-drug abuse and pill mills.

“When times are tough, people rise to the occasion, and you surely did,” he said to the senators, who were joined by family members in the flower-filled Senate chambers.

He also cited improvements in the state’s unemployment rate and said senators want to continue to “provide economic climate change.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.