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Legislators focus on saving jobs for state workers, seek gambling funds

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By Alice Du Pont

In light of the $2.4 billion shortfall state officials are currently grappling with, Gadsden County’s Legislative delegation, Sen. Al Lawson and representatives Marti Coley and Alan Williams all agree that saving jobs for state workers is a priority.

Nearly one-fourth of the county's work force is employed by the state of Florida.

"Whatever cuts are going to be made, you're going to be impacted by it. These aren't just numbers, these are human beings that are going to be impacted," said Williams. "When this special session was called, I was hopeful that meant that we would be able to gain support from legislative leadership of alternative ways to create new revenues for the state."

Gov. Charlie Crist has made it clear, however, that his plan does not include layoffs of state employees.

The governor's plan includes $562 million in spending cuts, $900 million from various endowment funds and borrowing $314 million.

Lawson wants to tap into the Seminole Indians’ gambling money which, some say, could be as much as $1 billion. He blamed previous tax breaks for the current problems, and called for tax fairness, saying, "regular people" should not have to bear the state's financial burden.

Gadsden County Clerk of Courts Nicholas Thomas was notified last month by the Florida Department of Revenue that the county is expected to receive $586,000 less in funds this year.

Small counties are going to suffer even more if the Crist is successful in getting an increase in speeding ticket fines. Thomas said the fines are high and that an increase will not help small counties.

"That money is divided up into so many different funds that it may not make very much difference to us at all. What affects us is the sales taxes and fuel taxes, because when the state collected less money, we get less money," Thomas said.

Williams said health care, education, social services and job programs are going to take a significant hit.

Schools are expected to lose approximately $500 million in funding for grades K-12. If the cuts are made, educators are asking that the Legislature remove some of the mandates, such as appropriations for textbooks, transportation and class size requirements. All educational funding to counties will, across the board, be reduced by 2 percent.

"When this special session is over, the problem is not going away. With unemployment at record highs, we have to work hard to create jobs that will stimulate the economy during this financial crisis.

“During the regular session, I remain hopeful that leadership will be open to ideas regarding new funding sources that will help the poor, working families and citizens of Florida," Williams said.

"I'm keeping an eye on the session. I will stay in touch with our delegation and we'll have to make adjustments.

“It could mean making some tough cuts. But at the end of the session, we'll see where we stand and make decisions accordingly," said Gadsden County Commission Chairman Eugene Lamb.