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  1. Florida Politics

No teacher pay, private prison monitoring if Florida government shuts down

Visitors from Oriole Beach Elementary in Gulf Breeze crowd around the state seal on the floor of the Capitol last month in Tallahassee after lawmakers adjourned without agreeing on a state budget. The Florida Senate and House are meeting in a special session starting June 1 with the predominant goal of breaking a stalemate over health care spending and adopting a budget for the pending fiscal year.
Visitors from Oriole Beach Elementary in Gulf Breeze crowd around the state seal on the floor of the Capitol last month in Tallahassee after lawmakers adjourned without agreeing on a state budget. The Florida Senate and House are meeting in a special session starting June 1 with the predominant goal of breaking a stalemate over health care spending and adopting a budget for the pending fiscal year.
Published May 20, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — If the state government shuts down July 1, streetlights will go dark, teachers could go unpaid and the state will stop monitoring privately owned prisons.

At the request of Gov. Rick Scott, state agency heads this week spelled out some of the ways Floridians would be affected if lawmakers can't agree on a budget by June 30. Gov. Rick Scott requested the reports, which show that the state would stop building roads and bridges and that responses to emergencies could be affected in the middle of hurricane season.

So far, no one is predicting it will come to that.

The Florida Senate and House are meeting in a special session starting June 1 with the predominant goal of breaking a stalemate over health care spending and adopting a budget for the pending fiscal year.

But if their stalemate continues and Florida resorts to a bare-bones spending plan as suggested by Scott, results could be dire. Emergency Management director Bryan Koon didn't mince words in his response to the governor: "These unintended and unforeseen consequences are numerous and would undoubtedly result in economic losses and could also directly result in the loss of life."

Scott spokesman John Tupps said there are other options to fund emergency response if need be, particularly during hurricanes.

Schools could be hit hard, too. Without state funding, it would be up to each school district to decide if and how to pay teachers, fund summer school and prepare for the coming school year, Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

Districts could dip into funding reserves to keep paychecks flowing to teachers and other employees who are paid during summer break. Still, some teachers could have to wait until a budget is passed to be paid.

"School districts live on the edge economically as it is," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association. "To have even a few weeks worth of delay is just not in the best interests of children."

Recipients of Medicaid — the program at the heart of the budget standoff — could face loss of access to pharmacies and physicians, putting a strain on emergency rooms as the only remaining option for health care, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Some agencies, including the Department of Corrections and Department of Law Enforcement, have identified all of their work as critical, saying even in a government shutdown, prisons ought to be staffed and criminal investigations should continue.

But the agency responsible for oversight of seven private prisons would stop working.

"There will be no oversight pursuant to the condition of facilities, treatment of inmates, safety and hygiene protocols," the report submitted by the Department of Management Services says.

Although there has been no indication of compromise on a health care funding impasse that derailed the budget process this spring, House and Senate leadership say they're confident a budget deal will be reached.

Senators have criticized Scott's talk of a government shutdown.

"This is worse than shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater," Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said. "There's not going to be a government shutdown in Florida."

House Appropriations Chair Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said he is confident doomsday scenarios will be avoided but that the agency reports can serve a purpose.

"There's probably some benefit to being aware of the consequences of not coming to a budget agreement," Corcoran said. "But I think we're going to get there."

The governor, too, said through a spokeswoman that he is "cautiously optimistic" a budget will land on his desk for a signature or veto in June.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com.