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The Mike Haridopolos $enate brain drain: Johansen, Noble leave with Coburn

Though the Senate's top budget guru, David Coburn, is leaving of his own volition, his longtime friend, Alan Johansen, was forced out of his part-time job Friday along with Julie Noble, the Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Committee staff director.

"She was one of the most dedicated, committed people working in the Florida Senate," said Sen. Mike Fasano, the committee chair. "We will miss her greatly." Johansen was well liked by lawmakers and his colleagues.

Is it justified? Fasano said it was incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos' call.

Not everything is.

Outgoing Sen. Pres Jeff Atwater's staff chief, Budd Kneip, continues drawing his $150,000 annual salary. But he's not doing too much staff-chiefing these days now that Haridopolos hired Steve MacNamara as staff chief/executioner. More here on that.

Along with Coburn, Johansen's loss is particularly noteworthy. For years, the economist has served on the revenue estimating conference, an obscure panel that has one of the most major impacts on the state. Composed of analysts from the chambers of the Legislature, governor's office and tax department, the panel literally decides how much money lawmakers have to spend in the budget. The conference members also help estimate the fiscal impact of lawmaker legislation.

That's a lot of pressure to get it "right" in the eyes of the people who can fire you. But the conference prides itself on rendering neutral political advice and analysis. Now Johansen is gone. So is his successor, Finance & Tax Committee staff director Bob McKee, who was forced out weeks ago.

For the record, Johansen earned $69k, Coburn $169 and Noble nearly $87k annually, excluding benefits. In all, decades worth of experience and about $1.4 million in salary (minus $754k in new hires) is so far leaving before the full arrival of Haridopolos, who has promised a "new Senate" and is getting one. But it's leaving bitterness behind. The Senate's familial, bipartisan bonhomie seems fading compared to the days when Senate President Ken Pruitt, in 2007, lauded nearly every staffer on the chamber floor.

Now some are being shown the door.

Some grumble that Noble, an African American, was the second minority female pushed out of Haridopolos' Senate in as many days (health appropriations analysit Marta Hardy, an Hispanic, submitted her resignation Thursday). But Haridopolos' hasn't just hired white guys. He made Matt Carter, an African American, staff director for the Committee on Communications, Energy, Public Utilities and Military Affairs and Domestic Security.

Haridopolos says he wants to get rid of staffers who think they're the "41st Senator." If anyone (deservedly and respectfully) qualified for the title, it was Coburn. Some in the press corps have called him the 41st Senator for years. Yet he was asked to stay. His departure makes Mike Hansen, former budget director in the House and Jeb Bush's office, more valuable than ever.

As for the overall reductions, Haridopolos vows to mirror the private sector and save money by reducing staff and making others pull double duty.

But at a certain point, emptying an organization of institutional knowledge can make people work harder, but not smarter. And that has a cost that can ripple through the state budget, law books and courts.