Budget could squeeze Everglades deal

If water managers decide Tuesday to spend $1.34 billion to buy U.S. Sugar's sprawling farm fields, it will require the fiscal equivalent of maxing out the credit card.

And, like a shopper who splurges for that special something, a grim economic forecast unveiled Monday suggests the South Florida Water Management District's governing board soon could be forced to cut back on other things to afford the sugar land.

The unanticipated budget cutting could run deep enough -- up to 22 percent and $100 million a year -- to undermine what appeared to be shaky board support for the state's bid to convert a swath of Big Sugar land into Everglades restoration projects.

On the eve of a crucial board vote, Gov. Charlie Crist sent a letter to board members urging them to back what he called an ''unprecedented'' opportunity that would pay dividends from the Everglades to Florida Bay for centuries. ''The historic nature of this moment cannot be lost,'' he wrote.

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