Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Millions in state budget cuts criticized as short-sighted

Carol Bennett checked into the Operation PAR Village drug treatment center in Largo on Jan. 5, six months pregnant and addicted to cocaine. Today, she is grateful she got in when she did.

"I didn't want to have my baby in jail," said Bennett, 32, who traded jail time on cocaine possession charges for 16 months of addiction treatment. She said she has been using cocaine for four years, has seven other children ages 2 to 16 and is determined to make a new start.

"I really want to change my life."

Because Bennett was pregnant, her treatment is paid for by federal money from last year's budget, but with another round of budget cuts facing the treatment center, there is no guarantee the 45 women on the waiting list will make it in.

The Florida Legislature approved $1.2-billion worth of spending cuts Wednesday to balance the state's $2.4-billion budget deficit. Included in the latest cuts are $3-million from drug treatment programs like the PAR Village, which will have to eliminate 35 of its 160 treatment beds.

"It's the epitome of insanity," said Nancy Hamilton, executive director of the program. "We are building new prisons and reducing the very thing that keeps people out of prison."

What's worse, she said, "there's going to be more cuts."

Legislators predict they'll have to close another $3-billion shortfall when they write the 2008-09 budget this spring.

"This is a prelude," Senate President Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach warned, moments after the Legislature adjourned Wednesday.

He predicted more spending cuts, unless lawmakers agree to tax increases, a prospect that once was implausible, he said.

The prospect of additional budget cuts is sending shock waves of worry through Florida. Parents at Ronald Reagan High School in Doral have pitched a tent to protest school cuts, with two mothers on a hunger strike. The complaint from many parents and state workers is the same: short-term cuts will have long-term and potentially irreversible costs.

Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, says that for every drug addict sent to residential treatment, the state saves $10 a day and produces someone who "has been taught to live in a community," while prisons produce punishment.

"For every bed we lose in the community treatment system, it represents a person who is going to end up in a more expensive program — the Florida state prison system," added Broward County Circuit Judge Marcia Beach.

"Most people who are in Florida prisons are there because they are either a drug user or are involved with drugs," she said. Cutting back treatment programs puts more pressure on prisons, already at a record 100,000 inmates, she said.

"We are never going to build our way out of this," she said. "We know what we ought to be doing, but we can't get there."

Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican who heads the Senate budget committee that oversees many of these programs, has heard it all before. He fought the drug treatment cuts and worries there will be more. His solution: start looking at eliminating tax breaks.

"You've got to take a hard look at all the options," he said.

Bibiana Salmon of Doral is so upset by the short-sightedness of the school cuts — $820-million cuts from K-12 schools this year statewide — that she has started a hunger strike.

"They are robbing our children's future," said Salmon.

Just hours before legislators finished their budget-cutting package, Gov. Charlie Crist pointed to the empty Capitol plaza and told supporters that Floridians "know and understand'' the difficult cuts lawmakers have to make.

"That's why you don't see protesters outside," he said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com.

Millions in state budget cuts criticized as short-sighted 01/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 11:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.