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Gov. Rick Scott's budget slashes spending for homeless, other vulnerable groups

TALLAHASSEE — Last year, agencies that help Florida's homeless received nearly $7 million in state funding to assist more than 74,000 people.

But that money was wiped out of the budget unveiled by Gov. Rick Scott on Monday, which called for elimination of the state's Office of Homelessness.

His dramatic slashes to the budget target some of the state's most vulnerable groups.

In addition to cutting the homelessness office, Scott's budget calls for moving trust funds that pay for indigent criminal defense and domestic violence and rape crisis programs into general revenue coffers.

He also wants to end programs that encourage state contracting with minority businesses and suicide prevention efforts in public schools.

And he proposes killing the state's Coastal Clean-up Trust Fund, ending taxes on waste tire disposal, dry cleaning, batteries, fertilizer and other pollutants.

"It is probably the most callous, destructive, hurtful, archaic budget that you could put forward in a state like this," said Rep. Mark Pafford, a Democrat from West Palm Beach who is co-sponsoring a bill that would provide tax breaks to businesses that give homeless people jobs.

Throughout talks surrounding his budget, Scott has said he expected it to ruffle feathers. He stuck to his message that the best way to turn around the state's economy is to create a business-friendly environment that includes cutting corporate taxes. He also wants control of $800 million over the next two years to attract businesses to the state.

Business groups and Scott's tea party base love his approach.

"We've got to stop the spending and we've got to make some hard choices," said Karen Jaroch, a tea party activist from Tampa who met with Scott on Thursday. "To get revenue growth in the economy, you have to grow business."

The Office of Homelessness, which last year had a budget of $19.2 million, has been a target before, said Rayme Nuckles, who leads the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County. "Historically, those individuals in the state who are the most vulnerable always end up taking the brunt of the cuts. So we're always prepared to advocate for the needs of those who are less fortunate."

But what's disturbing about Scott's proposal, he said, is that rather than just not funding the Office of Homelessness, as has been suggested during previous budget crunches, Scott proposes repealing the legislation that created it.

Scott also wants to eliminate the state's Office of Supplier Diversity, which in 2010 had a $421,000 budget and oversees the state's minority contracting efforts.

Scott budget director Jerry McDaniel said "nothing was held sacred" when searching for ways to trim $5 billion from the state's bottom line.

At a budget hearing on Thursday, McDaniel said making cuts to programs that help the elderly and minorities was difficult, but that Scott felt strongly that even in tight budget times, raising taxes is not an option.

"There's only so much money," he said. "The only answer was to create a better business environment in this state. Revenues will recover as more businesses come here."

As for cutting the taxes on pollutants, McDaniel said those generated very little money for the state but pose a "significant burden for businesses." The Coastal Clean-up Trust Fund last year had a budget of $15 million, according to state records.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, expressed a general concern about Scott's seeming lack of interest in diversity, noting that so far he hasn't named any minorities to lead state agencies.

"He hasn't finished, but at this point it doesn't bode well for the future with none having been appointed or suggested to my knowledge," Joyner said. "I asked this question back when he met with the legislative delegation in Tampa Bay. I at that point told him I was interested in diversity, and he said that would be a part of his program. But I've yet to see it."

Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Rick Scott's budget slashes spending for homeless, other vulnerable groups 02/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 7:05am]
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