TALLAHASSEE -- Millions of Floridians headed back to work Tuesday after a three-day Fourth of July weekend.
But Toni Gugliotta wasn’t be among them.
She applied for $275 a week in unemployment benefits instead.
The Pinellas County woman is among 1,300 state employees put out of work by the new budget approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on May 26.
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Scott kept his promise to reduce the size of the state government bureaucracy. But he did so at the expense of real people with mortgages, health care bills, college tuition payments and credit card payments.
Many of them earned less than $30,000 a year after years of state employment.
To them, the Scott mantra “Let’s get to work” rings hollow. They now join the hordes of Floridians looking for work in a state with an unemployment rate that, while declining, remains in double digits at 10.6 percent.
The state agencies that took the biggest hits are the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families, which together account for most of the layoffs.
“It’s like 12 years going down the drain,” Gugliotta said.
Gugliotta, 50, of Dunedin, earned nearly $29,000 a year as one of 18 full-time community service officers under the Florida Highway Patrol. CSOs, as they were known, directed traffic and handled fender-bender accidents, freeing up Florida Highway Patrol troopers for more serious calls.
Most CSOs were in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, where the program was created.
The program was a perennial target of budget cuts but always managed to survive -- until this year. After 14 years, it’s gone.
“I was proud to wear the uniform,” Gugliotta said. “I did not walk out of my house with a stain or a crease.”
For the first time in 15 years, she’ll be without a paycheck this week. She’s single and has no other income and plans to file for unemployment benefits, but worries knowing the $275 a week won’t cover her $560 monthly health insurance premiums and other bills.
“I have a mortgage. I have bills. I have to pay for my knee surgery,” Gugliotta said.
She also worries about motorists who she says will now have to wait longer for help.
“Wait until hurricane season. Wait until schools open,” she said. “The snowbirds are going to come down soon. Here, when they need us the most, they’re eliminating the program.”
Firing the CSOs saves $900,000. That’s a pittance, Gugliotta says, compared with the waste that went into the $48 million courthouse in Tallahassee known as the Taj Mahal.
“Why can’t they sell two pictures from the Taj Mahal wall and fund us for another year?” Gugliotta asked.
Before the state juvenile detention center in East Hillsborough closed for good on June 30, its employees lingered at the place they used to call “work.” Even those on leave before starting new jobs came by to help pack up and reminisce.