[Hpn] FL -- State cuts may lead to crises

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 22 Oct 2001 13:44:03 -0700

State cuts may lead to crises at county level

 St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 2001
Never mind anthrax. If you're one of Florida's neediest people -- very
young, very old, very sick, very poor -- you are more likely to be harmed by
the red ink flowing from the state Capitol these days.

Never mind anthrax. If you're one of Florida's neediest people -- very
young, very old, very sick, very poor -- you are more likely to be harmed by
the red ink flowing from the state Capitol these days.

Legislators will convene in Tallahassee this week to start the agonizing job
of cutting about $1-billion from the state budget. Overly optimistic revenue
projections and unpredictable current events have combined to produce a huge
deficit, which is what occurs when the state spends more money than it
collects in taxes and fees.

Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees have been kicking
around ideas about where to find the money.

Some of the cuts to programs and services that are being discussed so far
include ending prescription drug benefits; curbing care for poor pregnant
women; eliminating eyeglasses, hearing aids and dental care for Medicaid
patients; reducing grants for homeless programs; and closing down clinics
for Alzheimer's patients.

So, if you're in need of one of those services, you could find yourself
doing without, or at least digging deeper into your pocket to pay for it.
But even those who are not directly affected will pay a price.

When the state cuts back its funding, what it really does is force local
governments to make up the difference. That means county commissions and
school boards and city councils all across Florida will have to find money
in their budgets to cover the added costs. Because those costs are
unexpected -- and sizable -- local governments will have difficulty with
that task. 

If their reserve funds are insufficient, which is often the case, it means
they will have to do some cutting of their own. That could mean roads won't
be widened, ball fields won't be added at parks and new sewer pipes might
not be laid. It also might mean public employees may not get the raises they
expect, or that they will be asked to assume the responsibilities of
departing co-workers who are not being replaced.

And there are other ways we will all be affected by the cuts, both at the
state and county level. When granddad can't take the county bus to the
veterans hospital, you'll have to drive him. When your granddaughter has the
flu and the free clinic can't afford to stay open on weekends, you're the
one who will pay the bill in the hospital emergency room. When the County
Commission can't afford to erect that traffic light in your neighborhood,
you're the one who'll take the risk of being T-boned by a careless driver.
When the School Board can't afford to hire more teachers, it's your kid who
will get less individual instruction because there are too many students in
the classroom. 

Under these circumstances, counties normally might raise taxes to avoid the
cuts. But that is not an option this year because the counties have already
locked in their millage rates, and the law says they can't be raised again
until Oct. 1, 2002.

One of the most intrusive cuts the state is considering will force counties
to pick up a much bigger share of the cost of Medicaid, which is the main
health-care program for poor folks who use hospitals and nursing homes. The
state Agency for Health Care Administration wants counties to pay about six
times more than now, just for the nursing home portion of the bill. In
Citrus County, that would mean the commission would need to add about
$1.9-million to the $371,000 it now spends for that expense per year.

Although the county would not have to cough up the bulk of that money before
next October, it could have to fund part of it. A proposal in the state
House that will be considered in this week's legislative session would
mandate that the County Commission find an additional $410,000 before the
end of its fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2002. The companion proposal in the state
Senate puts that added expense at $112,000.

The outlook is even grimmer over at the School Board.

Chairwoman Patience Nave said Friday that she expects Citrus schools to lose
between $1.2-million and $2.7-million. Nave said the thought of cutting the
budget that deeply leaves her "shaking her head" at the whole process and
wondering if state lawmakers have any idea of the enormity of what they are
demanding. "It frightens me," she said.

We all have plenty to be afraid of these days. Too bad the people we elect
to spend our money have joined the list.

 Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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