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    Bush pulls plan to privatize office

    Under his proposal to privatize state personnel services, 1,287 positions would have been lost.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 8, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush suffered his first legislative setback Thursday, the apparent political fallout over his opposition to the Senate's proposed tax overhaul.

    Facing opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate, the governor abruptly withdrew his plan to privatize state personnel offices, conceding defeat in a session that has barely begun.

    The decision is a severe blow to Bush's plan to cut 3,000 state jobs in the coming year. His personnel privatization plan would have eliminated 1,287 state jobs, or one-third of the total.

    Bush withdrew the proposal after Sen. Rudy Garcia, a Hialeah Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Productivity, told Bush he opposes the plan and would recommend that Senate President John McKay reject it.

    "There seems to be an emerging consensus that this proposal would be implemented on such a scale and in such a time frame as to raise legitimate concerns about the financial integrity and accountability of our critical governmental systems," Garcia wrote in a letter to the governor.

    Garcia's letter was sent the same day news broke of Bush's opposition to McKay's plan asking voters to cut the sales tax to 4.5 percent and remove more than 90 exemptions on goods and services.

    It is the second year in a row the Senate has rejected Bush's attempt to privatize personnel functions.

    Bush said his plan would reduce cost, take advantage of private technology and give state workers better service.

    In a letter to McKay on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan complained only one Senate committee had given the plan "a cursory review."

    "We believe very strongly this plan is in the best interest of the state and the state employees and we intend to continue to pursue the implementation of the plan in the future," Brogan wrote.

    He said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made "security of our records and the need to ensure our employees are paid in a timely fashion" of heightened importance. The privatization plan would help ensure that, he wrote.

    The plan already had been endorsed by House Speaker Tom Feeney. But the more moderate Senate has been slower than the House to embrace Bush's efforts to privatize.

    Opposition to Bush's privatization proposal is bipartisan. Sen. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, said there are too many unanswered questions about the plan.

    "There's no assurance that this will work here. It's never been done in other states," Lawson said. "This is government -- you can't just privatize anything."

    That position was echoed by Mark Neimeiser, political director for the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, who welcomed news of Bush's decision to withdraw personnel privatization.

    "I think it's a very positive sign," Neimeiser said, adding there were too many questions about the program.

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