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State government shutdown not likely, lawmakers say

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Fears of a state government shutdown on July 1 were eased Thursday when the state House adopted its version of a budget, but many may be unhappy by the time the final version is sent to the governor.

The issue of expanded health care created a bitter divide between the House and Senate. A final vote on the health care plan Friday is what opened the door to budget negotiations.

The House gaveled in, prayed, said the Pledge of Allegiance and passed the same budget it passed in April in less than nine minutes.

"We're here to fulfill the duty of the people who sent us here to pass a responsible budget," Rep. Mark Pafford said. "Because of differences between the leadership of the House and Senate, we didn't get that done during regular session."

Without a budget by July 1, state government would see a partial shutdown. That now looks less likely than it did in April or May. What's different now from April is that the House and Senate have finally started talking to each other.

Those talks start this weekend. Sen. Wilton Simpson is confident there will be no shutdown.

"I'm very hopeful, and I think we're all professionals, and we here with a responsibility to the people of Florida, and we're going to do our jobs," Simpson said.

Still to be resolved: An increase for schools. It once looked historic, now it doesn't because of greater needs in health care. And the level of tax cuts will be at least $200 million less than the governor was seeking.

Environmentalists are very unhappy with the budgets moving forward, in part because it uses a third of the money voters approved for land conservation to fund the already existing Fish and Wildlife Commission. Rep. Jim Boyd is shepherding the legislation.

"It's maintenance, management, lots of other things as well, so I believe we're honoring the intent of the law," Boyd said.

Lawmakers have a self imposed deadline of June 20 to finish their work -- a 10-day cushion to keep state government functioning normally.