More funding, less taxation lead Manatee legislative issues

Local legislative delegation hears from constituents

nwilliams@bradenton.comDecember 8, 2012 

BRADENTON -- A combined 27 Manatee County government agencies and nonprofit groups shared ideas and concerns with state legislative representatives Friday, hoping their elected officials will fight for their concerns in Tallahassee during the 2013 legislative sessions.

Manatee's legislative delegation consists of Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish. Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. Joyner and Rouson were unable to attend.

Among the issues discussed Friday were funding previously slashed or underfunded programs; eliminating or decreasing state restrictions and regulations that hinder growth and development; and legislation that would maintain the region's appeal to visitors.

The Manatee County Commission proposed legislation that would absolve all counties from financial responsibilities for Medicaid and address statewide Medicaid billing.

The county has an outstanding balance of $2.7 million in unpaid Medicaid bills.

"While the state may have addressed a hole in its budget, last year's fix did nothing to resolve the serious billing problems throughout the system that charges local government a share of Medicaid costs," said county Commissioner Larry Bustle. "Because the billing system was not addressed last year, the problem remains and Manatee County continues to receive many erroneous bills each month."

Other priorities listed by the county commission included maintaining performance-based funding for technical schools; a request for $365,577 in grants for beach renourishment; and a ban of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida.

The Manatee School Board, which recently discovered an

additional $7 million in unbudgeted expenditures, asked for a statewide funding system based on performance and accountability, a modification of class size rules, and a means to collect sales tax on Internet purchases. The school board also asked to be given control over charter schools.

Agencies like Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Manatee Glens hospital and the Healthy Start Coalition requested more funding to help families and children.

In Florida, $30 is spent per person for mental health while the national average is $120 per person, said Mary Ruiz, president of Manatee Glens. Ruiz referred to $14.7 million in cuts from state children and adult services.

Over the last two years, the state cut $6 billion from its budget, Steube said.

"A lot of these programs include people who can't help themselves or can't do well for themselves, and that's the role of government," Galvano said. "If we're going to spend our dollars, that's where they need to be focused."

Representatives said prospects for next year's budget is better than in the past several years, though large, pending fiscal problems could prove critical.

The "fiscal cliff" and a pending lawsuit against the state regarding a change in pension pay for union workers could affect the budget, which Steube said, has a $700 million surplus.

"In October of last year the forecasting budget showed a $300 million surplus, but turned into being $1.2 billion in the negative," Steube said. "You can't put a lot of trust and faith in those numbers because the revenue forecasting can change based on what's going on in the economy and what's going on in the state."

"We're going to go through and look at all the programs, recurring and nonrecurring, and decide what is valuable and what is working and what is not and get a real fresh look and real focus on what we fund," Galvano said.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049.

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