House, Senate to give closer scrutiny to budget this week

House and Senate budget writers this week will be looking for ways to cut environmental agencies’ budgets after questioning some of Gov. Rick Scott’s own recommended 2011-12 budget cuts last week.

Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations holds hearings Tuesday through Thursday. The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets Tuesday and Wednesday with a review of trust funds on Wednesday.

Last week, Scott recommended cutting state spending from $70.5 billion in 2010-11 to $65.9 billion, although some of the reductions are transfers and not actual cuts. The governor describes his proposal as a “jobs budget” that fulfills his campaign promises to reduce taxes and state spending to create a business-friendly environment.

But the budget also was full of grim news for environmental agencies. The governor proposes eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs, cutting 85 vacant positions at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and cutting 120 jobs at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. And the governor is requiring the state’s five water management districts to reduce their property tax revenue by 25 percent.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, questioned whether the various cuts may hurt communities and make Florida less attractive to industry and tourists.

“Will business want to come here if our quality of life is affected — ill-affected?” she said. “I wonder if there has been any analysis of that?”

Senators questioned why they weren’t being no money was going towards beach restoration and the Florida Forever conservation lands program.

“What other things that were cut, zeroed-out or whatever that are major issues are not on the list?” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. “Those are two I just happened to think of sitting here. I have to believe there are a whole bunch more.”

Scott visited the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday. While his budget does not include closing 53 state parks as previously identified by DEP during a budget-cutting exercise, Scott told reporters that the water management districts, like everyone else, will have to “tighten their belts.”

“In that case, the water management districts will have to look at how they are doing their job,” Scott said. “Most of us figure, if we do have to tighten our belt like most of the families are doing, we figure out how to do things less expensively. We really focus on high priorities. That’s what they will have to do.”

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting