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Tampa Bay area services brace for big budget cuts

The talk in Tallahassee sounds pretty abstract as lawmakers debate slicing $5-billion from the state budget for next year. But the reality will hit home in July, when many of the cuts take effect, particularly for such programs as Medicaid. The Florida House and Senate begin negotiations this week on a final plan.

Here are some areas targeted for budget reductions, along with reaction from those affected.

LIBRARIES: The House might trim state aid to libraries by nearly a third, to $22-million.

MEDICAID: Among the cuts considered: Eliminating health care coverage for 19,000 chronically ill Floridians; cutting dental and hearing coverage for 146,000 elderly; and significantly lowering reimbursement rates for hospitals and health departments who serve the poor.

• • •

"This is the worst (budget cuts) I've seen in my 20 years of doing this work in Florida.''

Marshall Seiden, CEO of Menorah Manor nursing facility in St. Petersburg. His nonprofit is now looking at ways to cut costs and increase the number of private-pay residents to maintain its quality of care.

• • •

"We've already lost over 40 percent of our funding since 1999-2000. Programs are going
to have to be reduced further.''
Mary Brown, executive director of Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, which could see its budget slashed from $1.1-million to about $600,000.
COURTS: The House would eliminate 391 jobs in the state court system, spread among the 20 circuits.

• • •

"Those decisions will likely
be made by the Trial Court
Budget Commission. They
cannot complete their work until the budget is finalized, and a dollar amount is given to them."
Robert Morris, 6th Judicial
Circuit Chief judge.
CHILD ABUSE: The money sheriff's offices use statewide for child abuse investigations would be cut by 5 percent in both House and Senate budgets, including offices in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough.

• • •

"It's going to severely impact us. For us to be successful, we have
to be properly funded.''
Capt. George Steffen,
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
JOHNNIE B. BYRD SR. ALZHEIMER'S INSTITUTE: The institute loses big in both chambers' proposals, with state dollars dropping from $13.5-million to $5-million under the Senate plan and $3.5-million in the House one. Byrd officials say such a cut would cripple the Tampa center, which has been a source of controversy since former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd created it in 2004 to honor his father.

• • •

"If you don't believe in Alzheimer's research, fine, just say it. But we put up $2-million a year alone just to match federal grants. Without dedicated funding, it can be hard to guarantee that the mission of Alzheimer's research can be completed."
Melanie Meyer, Byrd spokeswoman
FOOD STAMPS: The House plan calls for the elimination of 205 jobs statewide that process food stamps and cash assistance with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

• • •

"During these bad economic times, agencies like DCF and other social service agencies need their funding more than ever. These are times where citizens really need the resources we have. We're the ones helping people who are on the last rung of the ladder.''
Nick Cox, regional director of DCF's Suncoast Region in Tampa. He doesn't expect local employees to lose their jobs because the agency has stopped filling vacancies in recent months.
SCHOOLS: Pinellas school officials are still trying to decide how to cut $38-million to $48-million from next year's budget.

• • •

"We're taking a look at every business operation within the district."
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. Little trims here and there won't do it, he said. Given that the budget is 85 percent salaries and benefits, some jobs are likely on the line. Another twist of the knife: Legislators propose balancing the budget by increasing school property taxes, already the largest part of the local property tax bill. "That has serious implications," observed budget official Doug Forth. "People assume taxes are going down."
TUITION: Both House and Senate want to raise in-state tuition by 6 percent at Florida's 11 state universities or 28 community colleges — starting next fall. The hike is aimed at blunting the tens of millions in budget reductions higher education institutions face in the wake of statewide revenue shortfalls.

• • •

"Obviously, I'm not going to like it because I think we already pay a lot."
Megan Barcena, 20, a junior at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "But if significant changes were made with that money and they could prove it was worth it for us, you can't really fight with that."

Tampa Bay area services brace for big budget cuts 04/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 1:33pm]
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