Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri recognizes a political winner even if it means firing some other county worker, shuttering a library branch and giving short-shrift to public discussions about the county budget.
Mulieri, the commission chair who faces an Aug. 24 Republican primary re-election challenge from former legislator Ken Littlefield, tried to amend the proposed county budget for 2011 before even hearing its details. In doing so, she appealed to the 54,000 military veterans living in Pasco county, but circumvented concerns about cutting spending to equally valid programs serving children, seniors and families.
Tuesday, as commissioners awaited a budget presentation, Mulieri said she wanted to add $37,000 back into the proposed spending plan for a position at the county veterans service office. It is a political hot potato because of the organized efforts in 2009 that eventually persuaded commissioners to avoid even deeper cuts to the office that helps military veterans obtain benefits. Nobody disputes the value of the service. A year ago the county reported its counselors helped obtain $10.5 million in federal money including $2.9 million from appealing initial denials of Veterans Affairs benefits.
Mulieri, however, was wrong to try to restore the money absent a broader discussion of exactly what cuts are acceptable and how much tax money property owners should be asked to pay. The rest of the commission was correct to cut off her premature push.
Mulieri didn't mention political expediency, but offered the goofy reasoning that she didn't want to force an octogenarian veteran to stand in the hot sun collecting petition signatures objecting to the budget proposal.
What about other vested interests? Do they get a reprieve if they hand in sweaty petition signatures? The proposed county budget includes a property tax increase — that can be lowered before Sept. 30 — and plans to close a library branch in Holiday, charge admission fees for parks and eliminate 76 jobs, 40 of which are vacant. The commission already approved higher fees for ambulance service and plans to increase the fire tax to fill 15 vacant firefighting positions.
The desire to keep the veterans service office at its current staff levels is understandable. But, Mulieri should make that decision after hearing from patrons of the Centennial Library in Holiday, or from families paying to go to Hudson or Green Key beaches, or from the three dozen county employees who face termination.
Veterans shouldn't jump to the head of the line just because election day comes prior to the September budget hearings.