Balancing Florida’s budget on the backs of civil servants

Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
Published September 21

On the backs of civil servants

Legislature rich with millionaires | Sept. 15

It was interesting to read about all the millionaires hanging out as legislators in Tallahassee. Seeing state pols doing so much better, I got to thinking about those other state workers, you know, the civil servants that go about doing the state’s business: managing fisheries with many competing interests, running state parks on a shoestring budget, conserving wildlife as habitat disintegrates around us, monitoring infectious diseases such as Zika, and more. Their financial trajectory has gone in the opposite direction. Since 2007, non-law enforcement civil servants have received two small raises. So a state employee making $50,000 in 2007 is making $52,000 today. Adjusting for inflation, that translates into $40,400 in comparable dollars. I’m not a math wiz, but that’s a 20 percent loss in purchasing power. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this as a problem for staff retention and recruitment. Two telling statistics can be found in the 2017-18 Annual Workforce Report: In the ratio of full-time equivalent employment to 10,000 in population, Florida is rock-bottom at 86, next is Illinois at 95, national average 168. And in state government employee payroll expenditure per resident, Florida is rock-bottom at $37, next is Nevada at $48, national average $83. Now that’s the way to stay competitive and effective. Pay the least, make them work the most. The Legislature has one must-do job every year and that is pass a balanced budget. And they are doing this on the backs of our civil servants. By not even giving them a cost-of-living adjustment to keep up with inflation is arguably immoral and certainly not good business.

Betsy Wells, St. Petersburg

Paying to play, itemized

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor. Douglas R. Clifford  |  Tampa Bay Times
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor. Douglas R. Clifford | Tampa Bay Times

Fundraising at the fore | Sept. 15

Looking at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pay-to-play menu for high-dollar donors makes me wonder, what would the founding fathers of our country think of such a scheme? I know politicians are constantly trolling for money but, I have never seen such a specific price list. DeSantis’ mentor said he was going to drain the swamp. Well, the swamp is higher than ever, and there is now a specific price to wade in it.

Scott McKown, Clearwater

Message from the mayor

The Tampa budget

The past few weeks have been an exciting and pivotal moment for Tampa, from passing the largest infrastructure program in our history that will rebuild our water/wastewater system to launching advisory teams on the big issues facing our city. And a few days ago, the City Council approved my administration’s first budget. This budget reflects the optimism and hope that I have for Tampa’s future. It is a budget that balances needs and wants with ensuring our financial stability. It addresses many years of deferred maintenance and cuts to services, moves forward on transportation, invests in housing that Tampa can afford, takes sustainability seriously and empowers and strengthens our neighborhoods.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Octavio Jones  |  Octavio Jones
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Octavio Jones | Octavio Jones

Tampa’s neighborhoods have unique needs, and my budget reflects this by making community investments that recognize this diversity. In some neighborhoods, we are embarking on long-awaited resurfacing projects. In others, we are adding sidewalks and crosswalks. We are providing affordable housing opportunities and addressing deferred maintenance at parks. All four council districts will see upgrades to fire safety services including new ambulances.

Tampa’s 2020 fiscal year budget is the first to start in the black since the beginning of the Great Recession. Thanks to the foresight of prior city leaders, we ended 2019 with both a surplus and a great credit rating. While some would like to spend this surplus on pet projects, I am fully committed to rebuilding our reserves. This will ensure that we are able to provide adequate city services during future economic slowdowns and will save taxpayers millions in interest payments by protecting the city’s credit rating.

Allocating public dollars to meet our needs and priorities is one of the most important responsibilities of our elected officials. It is one that I take very seriously, and view as a matter of trust. The budget process contains many tough choices as projects and programs are prioritized based on community needs. Our Fiscal Year 2020 budget is a significant step forward in transforming Tampa’s tomorrow into the city that we want it to be: one in which all of our neighborhoods participate in its bright future.

Jane Castor, Tampa mayor

Help for rape victims

Amazon selling rape kit for home use that’s taking some heat from experts | Sept. 15

Recently there has been extensive news coverage of two companies marketing at-home sexual assault kits used to collect DNA after an assault. Fortunately, both companies have ceased selling their product for the time being. As Hillsborough County’s certified rape crisis center, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay would like to let people know we do not support such kits. In Florida, safe and confidential medical-forensic exams are available at no charge at the state’s certified rape crisis centers. The exam can take place within 120 hours of an assault and is performed by a highly trained nurse examiner. The exam is comprehensive, including a medical exam to identify any injuries and prophylactically treat sexually transmitted infections, as well as collect DNA evidence from the body and clothing. Evidence is collected in a legal manner and is in compliance with the chain of custody required by the criminal justice system. Adult survivors are not required to report the assault to law enforcement. At the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, we will hold onto the evidence for up to a year, so the survivor has the necessary time to determine their next steps. By connecting with a rape crisis center, the survivor also has the option to work with a victim advocate. They can easily connect to additional survivor services, including options for trauma counseling. These services are essential to the survivor’s overall physical and emotional well-being. Survivors can call 2-1-1, any time of day, to connect with a local rape crisis center.

Clara Reynolds, Tampa

The writer is president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

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