Miami State Rep. Juan Zapata sent this out to fellow House members:
From: "Zapata, Juan"
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2009 17:11:00 -0400
To: !HSE All House Members & LAs<!HSEAllHouseMembers&LAs@myfloridahouse.gov>
Subject: Letter to Members
As you may have heard, I have expressed my discontent with both the nature and process of changes made to the budget recommendations that came out of the Human Services Appropriations Committee. This committee deals with the most needy and vulnerable in our state. Our decisions are literally life or death decisions for many. I'm proud of the work of all the committee members in ensuring that our budget was as compassionate as it was responsible.
Of the changes that were made one was of particular interest to Miami Dade County. The Liga Contra el Cancer (League Against Cancer) is an outstanding entity that provides free chemotherapy to cancer victims. Their annual telethon raises millions of private dollars every year. Because of the economic realities, these private dollars will be severely impacted this year. Last Wednesday, at the insistence of many Members of the Miami-Dade Delegation, I increased the funding of this group by $200,000. The additional funds came from general revenue cuts to existing member projects that funded redundant activities in Miami Dade.
As Chairman of the Delegation, and in response to a major media campaign back home criticizing our work; I put out a press release Thursday afternoon announcing the increase. Friday morning after hearing of the Speaker’s decision to reduce the recommended amount and in response to media inquiries from back home, I put out a press release informing of the Speaker’s decision to cut back the recommendation to the pre-existing amount of $900,000.
Another issue that was reinstated and that I cannot support is the privatizing of the Northeast Florida Hospital. This issue was injected into our recommendation on our Tuesday meeting. I had not heard of this issue before Monday evening, and after hearing the public testimony and appeal of Representative Adkins, it became obvious to every member in the committee that this was not the right thing to do at this time. Granted, there may be potential financial savings to the state; but the overall impact of this move, including the economic impact to Baker County, needed to be vetted. We all know too well of the unintended consequences a move like this could have.
My philosophy as Chair was to be as open and transparent as possible, and to incorporate the interest and concerns of every Member of the committee. I also feel that a Chair needs to be able to morally defend his actions and recommendations. Late Thursday afternoon, I communicated with the Speaker's chief of staff to explain and justify some of the decisions our committee made and was led to believe there were no issues. Friday morning, I was made aware of the above changes, as well as several others, some of which dealt directly and exclusively with Miami Dade County.
I am writing to you, my colleagues in the Florida House, because I strongly believe that we need to ensure a process that is inclusive of committee members; sensitive to individual Members’ concerns and respectful of the responsibilities of committee Chairs. With term limits we have seen a gradual shift of power from individual Members and committee Chairs to the Speaker. I mean no disrespect to our current or former Speakers but this is a well known reality. For us to be able to live up to our duties as elected Members of the House, we need to be involved and empowered and our opinions heard and respected. After all, we are the “people’s” House; the chamber closest to our citizens; and for our constituents to be heard, we as Members need to be heard.
Given these circumstances, I will be informing the Speaker that I cannot in good conscious, both to my colleagues and constituents, defend his changes to our Human Services budget. I am of the strong opinion that the protection of our institution’s integrity is our paramount responsibility. I fully understand that both my words and actions may bring consequences and I am prepared to accept and manage those consequences as they occur.
I thank you all for hearing me out.
Juan C. Zapata