Crist offers to take all rejected stimulus money
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04/13/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Despite the fact that Florida’s unemployment rate is at its highest level in more than three decades, Gov. Charlie Crist described the latest economic news in Florida "as incredibly uplifting" in a speech in Tampa this morning.

Whether he runs for re-election next year, or decides to run for the Senate, the governor enjoys the highest public approval ratings of any politician in the state. And though he was criticized severely by some in the GOP for his very public politicking for Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Crist said he was proud to do it, and he’d do it again.

Six Republican governors, including Alaska’s Sarah Palin and Louisana’s Bobby Jindal, have publicly said they would not take some of the stimulus money for various reasons. They’ve been slammed by Democrats and others for politically grandstanding, and trying to score points with fiscal conservatives by refusing the federal funds.

Crist said he’s a fiscal conservative, and referred to the $7 billion in spending that has been cut over the past two years in Tallahassee. Because of those cuts, he never thought twice about signing on when he learned that the president planned on a major spending plan to try to jumpstart the economy.

Crist talked about the challenges the state faces in this recession, but refused to allow a negative thought to enter his head during his 20=minute address to 150 people at Stetson Law School in Tampa in an event presented by the Tampa Greater Chamber of Commerce.

He said that even with diminished spending, the state is succeeding in education quality, touting Education Weekly listing the state as the 10th best in the country earlier this year, a huge improvement from its 31st ranking just two years earlier. And he praised Jeb Bush for some of that success. Crist overlooked however, the fact that the state still has one of the worst graduation rates in the county, and among the lowest rates of per pupil funding.

Portions of the Sunshine State have been hit as hard by the foreclosure crisis as any place in the country, but again, the governor saw only good times ahead.

In February, existing home sales rose 20 percent, compared to a year ago. Crist acknowledged that the reason sales are up is because housing prices are down dramatically, but he said that was a good thing/

Also speaking at the Conference was Hillsborough County Commission Chair Ken Hagen. The County Commission will ultimately decide whether to place a measure on the ballot next year that could be the first public commitment to public transit.

Hagen hailed the announcement late last week that Nortrax, a John Deere construction dealer, will open a new shared service center in Tampa that will employ 60 people.

Representing Tampa at the Chamber event was Mark Huey, the city’s economic director. He bragged about Pam Iorio administration’s "amazing renaissance” in downtown Tampa over the last five years/ Huey also announced that Mayor Iorio will be going on a business trade mission to Canada in the last week of June.

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