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Friday, April 29, 2011

Florida the land of incivility, where we balance the budget on the backs of the poor, old, disabled, sick and children

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

A lot to talk about in today's edition of Friday files, starting with the latest group of people getting hosed by Tallahassee — the mentally ill.

To be fair, it was probably their turn.

Florida politicians have already gone after the disabled, seniors, veterans and the poor.

And they weren't about to cut costs on things like their taxpayer-subsidized health-care plans — a sweetheart deal with $2-a-week premiums that's one of the most generous political plans in America.

Nor did they want to curb the multitudes of tax breaks for high-end yachts, bottled water or sports-stadium skyboxes. After all, that would upset the powerful lobbyists.Instead, they continue to do what they do best — target the disadvantaged.

They buffer these attacks with a warped sort of "nanny state" war cry, as if paraplegics and schizophrenics are lazy leeches who want luxuries … like wheelchairs and medication.

The truth, of course, is that this state and nation has long kept a balanced budget and managed to care for its most vulnerable residents.

Jeb Bush certainly did. Most civilized societies do.

But Florida's new breed of talk-radio inspired Republicans worships at the altar of goodies for Big Business and special interests and perks for themselves.

Right now, legislators pay about $8.34 a month for their own health care.

Somebody obviously has to pay for that.

The latest budget plan would cut $180 million in mental-health money. That's in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts for the disabled, elderly and medically needy that we've already reported.

These cuts for mental health are bad for more than just humanitarian reasons. There are major fiscal issues at stake as well. Because cuts at the state level now trickle down to local taxpayers later.

Do you know who Orange County's single-biggest provider of mental health services is?

The jail.

That's where those suffering from mental problems often end up. They don't get the help they need there.. So they get out … and go back in … and we pay for it over and over.

Fiscal conservatism indeed.

There's a chance legislators may rethink this. Apparently Speaker Dean Cannon and his colleagues in the House have a budget that won't cut as much for mental-health care.

Hopefully, the Senate will follow suit.

And maybe one day, the politicians who loved to preach about "shared sacrifice" will start asking some of the more powerful members of society to share as well … including themselves.

The rest of the stories

•Did you see where Appliance Direct filed for bankruptcy protection? One strange thing about this company: It used to keep State Sen. Mike Haridopolos on its payroll. Yep, some of the undisclosed income for which Haridopolos recently got into ethics trouble involved more than $180,000 that Appliance Direct's advertising arm paid Haridopolos' one-man consulting firm. Considering the big price tag — and recent bankruptcy news — I think it's safe you say: Appliance Direct, you paid too much!

•Speaking of Haridopolos, kudos to him and his peers in the Senate for unanimously passing the suspect-identification bill, which clamps down on hanky-panky when it comes to investigators steering witnesses toward desired suspects. Concrete standards — like non-leading questions and independent lineup administrators — are key to solid convictions. The motives of anyone trying to water down these standards are questionable. That's why Speaker Cannon and the House should join their Senate colleagues in passing a clean bill that leads to above-board witness IDs.

•And finally, a plug for constituent activism. One of my favorite reader activists is Orlando Republican Phil Fettig. Phil's a Navy vet — and a real pit bull about letting his elected officials know what he thinks. Phil, for instance, has expressed his beefs with State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle R-Orlando, for everything from school cuts to schools to corporate giveaways. Phil is informed, polite and relentless. But what really makes this story unique is that, most every time Phil writes Eisnaugle, Eisnaugle writes Phil back. The responses are personal and polite. In a world full of apathetic voters and form-letter politicians, I like both sides of that equation. Here's the kicker: After all those exchanges, Phil wrote this week to say of Eisnaugle: "While I will never agree with all his positions, I'm actually starting to like him!" There is something other pols could learn from that. or 407-420-6141,0,1446147.column

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