When the sun shone on the legislative budget agreement completed an hour before midnight Monday, the examples of who-you-know politics came to light — millions of dollars in pet projects for legislative leaders and well-connected lobbyists.
But often faring worse were those projects that didn’t have a high-profile voice — those with waiting lists of services for the adult disabled, the elderly and even public safety.
Lauren’s Kids, the program to aid victims of sexual abuse founded by the daughter of super-lobbyist Ron Book of Miami, was funded for another year for $3.8 million. But the budget for high-risk probation officers who supervise sex offenders when they return to the community saw little change. Hundreds of officers will continue to have caseloads of violent offenders that exceed the 40-person maximum allowed by state law.
An online education program for prison inmates pushed by a well-connected lobbyist and former Republican Party staff member was funded for $1.5 million. But a public television program that allowed hundreds of teachers to access free instructional videos for their students to prepare for state tests was zeroed out.
Lawmakers included $12 million for a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, to help families of children with disabilities pay for educational services, but they also cut millions in funding for services for 20,000 disabled adults.
On Friday, Florida legislators are poised to pass the $79 billion state budget by the June 30 deadline and end the bitter impasse that threw them into special session — at a cost to taxpayers of an extra $1.5 million this year. It’s a must-pass document and no changes will be allowed.