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Pasco County leaders made modest requests of legislative delegation

TRINITY — The days of bold financial requests were long gone by Friday afternoon, when local leaders appeared before Pasco County's legislative delegation.

The state Legislature, after all, must close a projected $3.5 billion deficit this session.

"We're kind of walking on new ground, and we're walking on eggshells," said Pasco County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. "It's hard to be asking for new things when we're skating on thin ice."

So the requests were more along the lines of: Don't cut too much. Pass laws to ease school budgets and spur growth in local governments. Be careful about Medicaid changes that could decimate many of the community-based elderly care programs.

"Legislators always talk about their constituents. … I just hope you understand I have constituents, too," said State Attorney Bernie McCabe. He said his office has dropped from 485 positions five years ago to 420 now.

"That is a direct result of the budget cuts and the (economic) situation we're in," he said. "We're getting along. I'm not whining. But we're getting into the quick."

Pasco County School Board member Joanne Hurley told legislators that the school district is starting with a $47 million shortfall.

"Like you, that means we have some very painful decisions to make," she said.

She asked for the Legislature to provide some flexibility with class size requirements and to return student funding to 2007-08 levels.

George Romagnoli, Pasco's community development director, did make one funding request: He wants legislators to restore funding to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program, which has been wiped out amid state cuts.

Though Pasco has received millions of federal housing dollars, the county has been unable to do many of the things it used to do with the state money, such as help lower-income residents with down payment assistance or roof repairs, he said.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, pressed local social service agency officials to gauge the effect of moving elderly and disabled Medicaid patients into managed care network programs, a proposal that he opposes but that has support in the Legislature.

Bill Aycrigg of CARES said that if Medicaid reimbursements got even lower because HMOs were lopping off their profit, his agency would lose 30 to 40 percent of its budget. Luanne Reese, an official with Mease Manor assisted living facility in Dunedin, predicted that nursing homes would close.

Meanwhile, a group of Gulf High School students said they were worried they could lose what one called his "second chance" at a productive adult life because of budget cuts.

Gulf High's GED exit option program is designed to give seniors who are behind in credits an alternative path toward on-time graduation. But many fear that the program will be eliminated as part of a national effort to standardize graduation rates.

The students and their counselor, Kelly Davey, want legislators to consider recalculating how those rates are determined so that schools with the GED exit option program aren't penalized.

"We ask you to be our voice in Tallahassee this session and provide support to high schools that aren't giving up on their students," said Davey.

Pasco's state legislators held their annual delegation meeting at J.W. Mitchell High School, which is still reeling from the death this week of sophomore Cierra Mamonoff, who was hit by a car while walking across Little Road. Legislators and others wore green ribbons in her memory.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco County leaders made modest requests of legislative delegation 01/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 8:56pm]
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