Saying 26,000 teacher jobs have been saved, Gov. Charlie Crist touted the federal stimulus package Wednesday -- but he said he won't support another multibillion-dollar spending plan from Congress.
Crist bucked fellow Republican leaders in Congress this year by embracing both President Obama and the stimulus package. Crist then held numerous open meetings with state agency chiefs to help pressure the Legislature to budget the money.
The state has already committed to spending more than half of the cash. But more is available than originally anticipated, said Crist's hand-picked stimulus czar, Don Winstead. Based on new calculations that factor in money to local governments, he said Florida could receive about $15.3 billion over three budget years.
''I don't anticipate the need for more. The numbers we've heard today are pretty significant,'' Crist said. ``And I hope Florida continues to do well. We all want unemployment to come down and only time will tell about that.''
Since taking office in 2007, Crist has consistently predicted that Florida's economy was poised for a ''sonic boom.'' But it continued to go bust.
Record job loss and budget deficits plagued the state as Crist's plans to fix the economy by overhauling property taxes, homeowners insurance and health insurance failed to live up to their billing. In signing the state budget this May, Crist said no state workers would be laid off, yet 300 state workers face unemployment.
The stimulus package, too, hasn't worked as well as suggested in Florida and the nation as the unemployment rate climbs higher than the administration had forecast.
Now a U.S. Senate candidate, Crist faces a Republican primary challenger in former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who has criticized the governor's advocacy of the Democratic spending plan.
But Crist said the money was a life saver. He said the job picture would be far worse in Florida were it not for the bailout from the feds.
The state's education commissioner, Eric Smith, said the $2 billion pumped into the education system saved 26,000 teacher jobs. Crist's labor department chief, Cynthia Lorenzo, said the state is using the extra federal money to boost unemployment benefits and to build a new call center to handle the flood of calls from the jobless.
''It's pretty incredible that 26,000 teachers will continue to work for Florida's children because of these additional monies,'' Crist said. And that's really the point. This is to help people.''