Fasano: Prison Cut Questions Will Go On

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 15, 2011 --

The chairman of the Senate’s criminal justice budget committee said Tuesday he will not back down from criticizing Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to lay off hundreds of state corrections employees, despite calls from the chief budget writer in the chamber for him to apologize for badgering the governor’s aides.

Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, also said the new governor would be neglecting his constitutional duty if he doesn’t allow his staff to come before Fasano’s committee to submit to questioning on the governor’s spending plans. The Miami Herald-St. Petersburg Times reported this week that Scott’s budget staff would boycott Fasano’s Civil and Criminal Justice Budget Subcommittee after getting what a spokesman implied were impertinent questions.

“I believe the governor and his staff have a responsibility to every taxpayer and every constituent in this state to work with the Legislature to develop a budget,” Fasano told reporters after a meeting of the committee Tuesday. “To ignore the Florida Legislature is abdicating that responsibility, at least some of it.”

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee that has oversight over Fasano’s subcommittee said, however, that Fasano should be more mindful of his responsibilities, essentially agreeing that Fasano’s questioning of the governor’s staff during a recent hearing was over the line in its tone.

“I don’t believe the governor’s staff was treated as it should be before a Senate committee,” said Sen. JD Alexander, R-Winter Haven, whose Budget Committee oversees Fasano’s panel. “The committee should have handled itself differently and probably owes an apology to those folks.”

The dust up started when Fasano last week aggressively questioned two Scott administration officials, Bonnie Rogers from the governor’s public safety budget office and Dan Ronay, a deputy secretary at the Department of Corrections, about the proposed prison staffing reductions.

Then early this week a Scott spokesman, Brian Burgess, told the Herald-Times that the governor’s staff wouldn’t continue to play that game.

"We're going to spend our time talking with those folks who are serious about passing a jobs budget and who we think are a good investment of our time," Burgess was quoted by the newspapers as saying. "He (Fasano) wasn't focused on the purpose of what our staff was called to testify about."

Fasano on Tuesday made no apology for his questions on the governor’s prison privatization plan.

“No one in this Capitol has suggested to me that I apologize,” Fasano said. “What he is proposing is going to put 619 families out of work so private (prison) industry can make $2.8 million annually.”

Governor’s office officials say they could move about that number of jobs directly out of the corrections budget with increased use of privatized prisons. It’s part of an overall proposal to save about $135 million by reducing the corrections workforce by 1,700 next year.

Fasano said he has never seen a governor boycott a legislative budget committee, though plenty of governors have seen their spending plans come under intense scrutiny.

“I’ve been in the Legislature 17 years, starting with Gov. Chiles, and I’ve never seen a governor refuse to have his staff come,” he said. “How petty can you get?”

Asked late Monday about whether he had ordered staff to boycott committee meetings, Scott said simply, “No.”

On Tuesday, Burgess would only say that the governor’s office was “committed to working with the Legislature” and that he appreciated Alexander’s efforts “to keep the hearings focused on Gov. Scott’s jobs budget.”

Fasano’s committee is scheduled to meet again Wednesday morning and a presentation on the governor's budget proposal by Rogers is the first item listed on the agenda.

At the end of his committee meeting Tuesday, Fasano quipped about the back and forth with the governor’s office saying, “if I offended anyone today, I apologize and I hope you’ll come back.”


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