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Legislators tell residents that funding will be tight
Keep your budget expectations low, the lawmakers advise.
By JOHN FRANK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008
Hernando County School board chair Sandra Nicholson talks to members of the legislative delegation, Sen. Mike Fasano, left, and Rep. Robert Schenck. "There is almost a zero percent chance of getting new funding next year," Schenck said.
[Ron Thompson | Times]
BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County's legislative delegation cautioned residents Friday against expecting too much from Tallahassee amid news of a massive budget shortfall.
"Florida's economy is in a recession. We have a $2-billion deficit at the state level," said state Rep. Rob Schenck, the chairman of the local delegation. "But I think it's our responsibility to be up front ... that this is a tight year.
"There is almost a zero percent chance of getting new funding next year," he said.
Still, that didn't stop dozens of residents, whether county and city leaders or mental health advocates and parents, from asking for money in next year's state budget during the legislative delegation meeting at the courthouse.
"Let me say, I understand it will be a very tight budget year," said Doug Leonardo, executive director of the Harbor Behavioral Healthcare Institute in Brooksville. In the same breath, he asked for nearly $1-million for two local programs. Half of that sum would cover a new initiative to help families of soldiers serving in the military who aren't covered by Veterans Affairs benefits.
Schenck, a first-term Republican from Spring Hill, said some of the programs have a clear value and that he hoped they could qualify for some existing state grants.
A local representative of the American Cancer Society, one of many groups seeking help, proposed that Florida solve its budget crisis by increasing the state's 33-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes.
Others took to overt, if not excessive, flattery as a way to push for their projects in their allotted three minutes of speaking time. A cursory count of smiling "thank yous" topped two dozen.
As county Commissioner Rose Rocco said when she cut off her remarks early, "I don't want to aggravate you. I want you to like us."
"There really is no adequate way to express our appreciation," gushed Brooksville council member Lara Bradburn.
"I know you have been thanked a lot, but I just wanted to thank you again," said Kathy Jones with United Way.
Others just wanted to share their opinions on pressing issues. Pocketbook concerns, such as property taxes and homeowners insurance, dominated the discussion.
Linda Hayward, a local advocate for lower taxes, said Amendment 1 on the state's Jan. 29 ballot wouldn't do enough to help property owners who are struggling with rising rates. She said she would vote for it but implored the lawmakers to keep their promise of getting results.
"We have more and more of your constituents (getting angry) because that promise has not been fulfilled," she warned.
State Sen. Paula Dockery said she didn't get the amendment written the way she wanted but defended the Legislature's work.
"It may not be what you want. It may not be what I want. But it is a plan out there," she said.