PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- Gov. Charlie Crist told Panhandle residents on Tuesday that Florida's economy appears to be recovering.
In a town hall-style meeting, Crist touted legislators' work on the state's $65 billion budget and their work to trim state spending by $8 billion over the last two years. Shrinking tax receipts and other revenue during the economic slump forced legislators to trim the budget.
The governor, who is expected to announce as early as next week if he'll seek a second term or run for the U.S. Senate, was mum about his own political future. Crist said only that he will make an announcement sometime after Friday, when the Legislature is expected to adjourn.
The governor also had no comment on Tuesday's decision by former Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio to enter the race to replace Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, who is leaving after one term.
Crist instead focused on the economy, telling the crowd of about 100 at the Pensacola Junior College auditorium that Florida's economy appears to be looking up.
To avoid a potential $6 billion deficit, lawmakers are relying on spending cuts, federal stimulus money, cigarette tax increases, university tuition, and fees for everything from court filings to license plates.
Legislators have also decided on a 2 percent pay cut for state employees making more than $45,000 annually, something Crist said he hopes will be temporary.
Enid Siskin, an environmental advocate, encouraged the governor to fight efforts by oil companies to drill off Florida's Gulf Coast.
A bill that could have allowed wells three miles off Florida's coast failed to pass this year.
Crist said he supports environmentally safe drilling to foster energy independence, but worries about contaminating the state's coast line.
"I thought we should be willing to look at it if it's far enough, safe enough and clean enough to protect our tourism industry," he said.
But the governor said he prefers the state look at solar, wind and other energy alternatives.
Crist also reassured University of Florida student Travis Hornsby that higher education would remain a priority in Florida, saying that overall funding is expected to increase this year.
And he told the audience that he will likely sign a bill into law that increases the cigarette tax by $1 a pack and is expected to bolster state revenues by $1 billion.
Earlier Tuesday, Crist announced his support for legislation that increases property insurance rates by 10 percent on more than 1 million customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
The governor encouraged Panhandle residents to shop around for the best possible property insurance rates, saying many companies doing business offer surprising low rates.
Tuesday morning, Crist attended a dedication ceremony for Pensacola's nearly 1,300-employee Navy Federal Credit Union campus. He thanked leaders of the nation's largest federal credit union for bring the banking call center and other operations along with hundreds of jobs to the region.
Crist planned to continue his Panhandle tour Tuesday evening with a stop in Panama City.