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Bud Chiles Blasts Plan to Raid Endowment Fund

The son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles is criticizing Gov. Charlie Crist for a plan to dip into the state fund named for Chiles, and taking the opportunity to criticize Crist's budget more generally.

In an interview with the Tampa Tribune editorial board on Monday, Crist said he would include in his budget proposal later this week the use of an unspecified amount of money from the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund, to help balance the state budget.

“What are reserves for?” Crist said, about the plan, according to the Tribune. “The need has arisen.”

But Lawton “Bud” Chiles, the late governor's son, who has threatened to sue over “raids” of the trust fund before, said Monday that the plan was short-sighted.

“There’s a culture in Tallahassee that says it’s OK to sell off our state’s future in exchange for short-term political gain, and Charlie Crist’s budget exemplifies it,” said Chiles, director of the Worst To First education initiative. “I hope that lawmakers find a better way to support children and the elderly than selling off the last of their savings and buying into gambling.”

That last part was a reference to Crist's education budget proposal, which the governor also previewed Monday in St. Petersburg. Crist is calling on lawmakers to increase education spending by $535 million, but using a proposed gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe to pay for it. So far, that compact has been rejected by lawmakers – so whether or not the budget could actually be balanced with that money is up in the air.

The Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund was created in 1999 with money from Florida's settlement with the tobacco industry, and the proceeds from investing the fund go to support education. In 2008, lawmakers voted to use more than $350 million of the fund's $2 billion principal to balance the budget and in last January's special session tapped it for another $700 million.

As of this week, the account was at about $660 million. Crist hasn't said publicly how much he wants to tap the fund for this year.

But also in the interview with the Tribune's editorial board, Crist said he will propose later this week to cut the corporate income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent for a business' first $1 million in taxable income. That would cost the state $65 million on the revenue side of the ledger if lawmakers go along.

Crist has been rolling out portions of his budget proposal in previews, leading up to a planned release of the entire budget recommendation on Friday.

So far, he's proposed several items that have made various constituencies happy – urging lawakers to restore funding for the Florida Forever land-buying program popular with environmentalists last week, proposing the increase in education spending on Monday, and now a corporate tax cut.

Crist's suggestion Monday to tap into the Chiles Fund is his first indication of how he will propose to pay for some of that increased spending – at a time when the state goes into the budget writing season nearly $3 billion in the hole.

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