|Sentinel Staff Writer
With top economists expected to announce grim budget news for Florida — possibly the worst for the state’s government in decades — an unlikely alliance of groups representing children, the elderly and taxpayers is demanding a solution.
The alliance, Florida’s People — Florida’s Promise, is bracing for an additional state revenue shortfall of perhaps more than $1 billion, its leaders said Thursday. The exact figures will be announced today.
But already the group has some 50 agencies across the state — including the Florida AARP, the Florida Coalition for Children and Florida TaxWatch — that have pledged to work together to resolve the funding crisis. And 750 individuals have signed the group’s petition seeking more creative solutions from state lawmakers than the slash-and-burn approach of the past legislative session.
“This is the largest back-to-back, year-to-year decrease in state funding. You have to go back to the Great Depression to find an impact like this,” said Florida AARP spokesman Dave Bruns. “These are historic times, and we need historic leadership.”
The group will hold the four “town hall” meetings across the state — the first on Saturday in Maitland. More than 25 elected officials and candidates have been invited.
“We’re saying to them, ‘We’re not going to just stand by and take another 5- or 10-percent reduction in our funding. It’s not going to work,” said Glen Casel, president of Community Based Care of Seminole, part of Florida’s privatized child-welfare system. “I recognize the difficult situation the legislators are in. But tearing out the safety net of our society is not the solution.”
This past legislative session, advocates found themselves battling one another trying to preserve their own programs. The situation grew so competitive that one legislator bluntly told an advocate: “I’m sick of hearing about who’s the most vulnerable.”
In the end, some programs were saved — Florida’s program for the medically needy, for instance — but cuts overall were dire.
Advocates with Florida’s Promise argue that streamlining some programs and closing tax loopholes could help raise money in a relatively painless way.
“If I take a charter fishing boat in the state of Florida, I don’t have to pay any taxes