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Crist Wants $32 Million to Blunt Loss of Shuttle

With thousands of NASA contractors likely to lose their jobs when the Space Shuttle program ends late this year or early next, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday sought to pump more life into Florida’s role in an uncertain future.

Speaking to the board of Enterprise Florida, the public-private business group, Crist said he is recommending that lawmakers steer $32.6 million to Space Florida in next year’s budget, with $20 million of it aimed at business recruitment efforts.

“Florida is the place where America reaches for the stars,” Crist told the board. “We’ve got to continue to do that. It’s inspiring and it creates jobs.”

The Space Florida money – aimed at ginning-up jobs in a Brevard County region where job loss has already proved significant – was part of a number of economic incentive proposals Crist is building into his budget proposal, scheduled to be released fully Friday.

The space funding would include cash to help emerging space-related businesses, recruitment and retraining of thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers expected to face unemployment when the Shuttle is retired in coming months.

Crist also said he will hold a space summit on Feb. 18 to address some of the issues stemming from the shuttle program’s shut-down.

In other business proposals, Crist is seeking $25 million for Quick Action Closing funds, aimed chiefly at luring out-of-state companies to Florida. Another $100 million would go to the Innovation Incentive Program for research and development institutions, a program that has received no state cash the past three years.

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, is in line to receive $25 million in the governor’s budget – the same amount the agency currently receives.

Crist was most animated Thursday when talking about his proposal to steer $15 million to support film and entertainment production in Florida. He praised the role of such Florida-filmed TV series as CSI-Miami and Burn Notice in buffing the state’ national image and luring visitors.

“The whole world gets to see our beautiful Florida over and over again,” Crist said.

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