Senate budget chief JD Alexander on prison boss ouster, mental health and moreby Dara Kam | August 25th, 2011
Senate budget chief JD Alexander sat down with Gov. Rick Scott for an hour this afternoon at the Lake Wales lawmaker’s request. Alexander was there to pitch Scott on allowing USF Polytechnic to become a stand-alone university at its campus near his hometown.
Before leaving the Capitol, Alexander shared some thoughts about Scott’s ouster of corrections secretary Ed Buss, the $700 million cut to water management districts’ spending and issues coming up in the next legislative session.
Alexander said Buss’s resignation was called for, citing concerns about a possible conflict of interest with the woman Buss hired to oversee the privatization of the prison system’s health care.
And Alexander harshly criticized Buss’s business plan justifying the privatization of all prisons within an 18-county region encompassing the southern portion of the state, calling it “wholly inadequate.”
Alexander included the privatization of the Department of Corrections Region IV in the budget late during the legislative session that ended in May. He’s convinced it will save the state about $45 million.
Perhaps Buss was not as keen on privatization as others in Scott’s administration or the legislature had hoped, Alexander was asked.
“That’s probably true. Looking not from what he told me during session but what he did after session didn’t seem like he was really taking that seriously,” Alexander said.
Read what Alexander says about what the legislature may do about the water management districts, the shuttering of the prison health care watchdog and state contracts after the jump.
WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICTS_ The $700 million cut – nearly three-quarters of which came from the South Florida Water Management District – from the state’s five water management district budgets announced yesterday was “wholly appropriate” – for now, Alexander said.
“We need to make sure we have adequate water quality and water supply dollars and I wouldn’t say they fall short,” he said. “But we also need to make sure that we’re on a path that will meet the future needs of the state… I think going forward we’re going to need to determine what amount needs to be available going forward.”
The spending cuts forced by Scott were more than triple the revenue reductions ordered by lawmakers. Alexander also played a big role in reducing the amount of ad valorem taxes the districts can collect.
Even so, he said the districts will likely need to up their spending in the future, especially after they spend down reserves. SFWMD is planning on spending its $350 million in reserves over the next five years.
CORRECTIONAL MEDICAL AUTHORITY _ Critics of shuttering the agency are concerned that the state may be out of compliance with a federal court order that created the watchdog to ensure that prisoners are getting adequate health care.
“When we get to the next session, we’ll take a look at it and see what we need to do there. I don’t yet know enough to know but if we need to put it back in place, we’ll put it back in place,” Alexander said.
MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE _ Alexander said the state is spending more than $2.7 billion on 600 contracts with 150 vendors substance abuse and mental health.
“When you look at the metrics on those contracts, the renewal rates, how they’re all done, there’s a lot of variation,” he said. Alexander said lawmakers need to create “appropriate standards and deliverables” for the contracts.
“Even if we don’t take a dime out of that area, I think we can spend the money better and get more services,” he said.