Bill Heller looks ahead to Legislative session
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01/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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For the third time in 10 months, state lawmakers today began making major cuts in the budget, which has been shattered by a drop in revenues due to a struggling state economy.

The budget cuts will likely be a stopgap measure. During the regular session that begins in March, there will likely be another round of trims, perhaps as large as $4 billion, to balance the coming year's spending plan.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican legislative leaders said that a source of potential revenue favored by Democrats, raising the state’s 34 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, was off the table.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Bill Heller says such an exclusion is unfortunate.

Education, the state's biggest expense that has avoided the most painful cuts, stands to take the biggest hit in the special session. Spending on K-12 faces $360 million in reductions under the governor’s proposal. Republicans argue classroom cuts are unavoidable in the recession.

Heller has worked in higher education for much of his career. He previously worked as vice president and campus executive officer at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. He’s currently a professor in the College of Education at the school – and he is extremely critical of plans to cut education funding.

The state’s budget deficit currently is at $2.3 billion.

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