In a short and perfunctory State of the State speech, Gov. Charlie Crist urged the Legislature on Tuesday to rally behind his plan to spend billions in federal stimulus money as "a bridge to better economic times" in Florida.
Crist called his address "a dose of reality," muting his usual cheerfulness to state the obvious: An epidemic of foreclosures and business failures and the highest unemployment rate in 17 years has ravaged state revenues. Crist used the deepening economic crisis to justify injecting $12.2 billion of federal money into the budget over three years.
"Some argue the politics of the federal stimulus plan," Crist said. "My friends, while our people worry, we cannot put politics over their needs – the needs of our students and teachers, the sick and the infirm, or those out of work."
In his third year in office, Crist is in the awkward spot of facing resistance within his own party in seeking to use stimulus money to jump-start the economy and get people back to work. Underscoring that point toward the end of his speech, Crist said: "We have to be willing to put solutions above who gets the credit."
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Reviews were mixed. Some Republicans remain wary of the need to spend all the federal money and risk dramatically increasing the state's future budgetary obligations without knowing when the economy will improve.
"Taking all of it may leave us in a worse position two or three years from now," said Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. "The most important thing we have to do right now is do no harm."
Crist's 19-minute speech, delivered in a subdued tone with the aid of a TelePrompTer at 6 p.m. to attract live local TV news coverage, brought polite applause from its target audience: the 160 legislators in the House chamber who will spend the next nine weeks scrutinizing his spending plans.
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