Tis the season for lawmakers to protect their budget earmarks from the governor's veto pen.
Locally, such hometown spending would pay for a campaign against prescription drug abuse and a community center in Lacoochee. Statewide, earmarks include $5 million for a rowing center in Sarasota and $1 million to lure Major League Soccer training camps.
But Pasco landed one local project that sponsoring Sen. Mike Fasano won't lose sleep over. He secured an additional $165,000 to hire a full-time nurse practitioner and a driver for a new medical van that Pasco officials will unveil next week.
"The good news is, they are veto proof," said Fasano, a frequent critic of fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Veto proof? How so?
Pasco bought the van to provide indigent health care from Pinellas County in February using donations. Pasco officials agreed to have the van operate under the office of Bob Dillinger, the Pasco-Pinellas public defender.
But there was no county money available to operate it.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, added the extra money for the nurse practitioner and driver to Dillinger's base budget that pays for most of his daily operations. That means Scott would have to veto the entire public defender budget to get at Fasano's hometown spending.
The veteran 18-year lawmaker is a keen student of the Legislature's rules and can use them to his advantage. But he's also quick to rail against legislative maneuvers he considers unfair. Recently, he leveled tough criticism of a major prison privatization plan and the move to split Polytechnic from the University of South Florida.
The 47-foot vehicle provides the basics — such as treatment for cuts and wounds, colds or lice — to the homeless and people who have little access to free clinics.
Money to buy the van and other start-up funding was raised by County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who serves on the Pasco homeless advisory board. Officials planned to hire a part-time nurse practitioner using those donations. The van also would be staffed with interns.
Dillinger said he will use the donations to cover salaries until the state money becomes available in July. He plans to hire a driver with medical training and noted that nurse practitioners are able to do almost anything a doctor can do, except prescribe certain narcotics.
"It's going to really help a lot of people," he said.
Full-time staffers will also allow the van to travel to homeless camps five times a week. With part-time staffers, visits would be limited to twice a week.
Fasano brainstormed the idea of full-time funding with Dillinger when he first heard about the van months ago.
"I wanted to make certain it will have an even greater impact on serving the uninsured and underinsured in Pasco," he said.
There's one more twist to Fasano's project. He added the medical van spending to the budget while he was chairman of a budget subcommittee that oversees the judicial system. He was later stripped of that post by Senate leaders over his opposition to the prison privatization plan that ultimately failed. Despite losing his chairmanship, the money remained in the budget.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.