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Grant Miller, Publisher

It will take longer everywhere in Florida to do business at the Clerk of Courts offices because dozens of employees have been put on unpaid furloughs. Why you might ask?

Clerks offices across Florida pool their funds and send them to the state, which in turn divides it up to fund the individual clerk’s offices. Clerk’s offices had a $20 million shortfall this year and the state legislature was asked to make up the difference. The answer? A resounding NO.

Other employees not impacted by the furloughs will get reduced hours. Basically,  clerks were required to reduce their budgets by 5 percent across the board. How did we get here? The Clerk of Courts Trust Fund grew during the recession as foreclosure filing fees flowed, which led the legislature to divert some of the money to other projects. But as the housing market stabilized and other factors caused a decline in speeding tickets, the fund shrank. Now the clerks face a $22.4 million deficit.

The senate during Special Session A wanted to fund the needed dollars. Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) said the situation is “screaming” for  legislative action. The House felt the clerks could supplement their trust fund with funds that had been set aside to update clerks’ technology. Many counties have already spent that money for its intended purpose and now have little or no access to supplementary funds.  And the fiscal cloud shows no sign of lifting. Projected revenues for  next year are about $44 million short of covering the budget requested submitted by the court clerks statewide.

Orange and Miami-Dade are the only two counties in Florida that are fighting not to make cuts, not furlough, not cut hours, not reduce services. Here’s longtime Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin’s written response to the issue.

“As far as Miami Dade Clerk’s Office: We, too, have had to make strategic cuts and in particular we had let 42 employees go. My focus is two-fold; first, to manage in a way that will minimize impacts on the public, the bar and the judiciary (no mean task) and, more importantly, to work with our outstanding Miami-Dade legislative delegation to create a more resilient funding solution so this won’t happen again.”

This more reasoned approach comes from Ruvin’s years of service at all levels of government. He was Mayor of North Bay Village, and a decades long period of service as a county commissioner, rising to be president of the National Association of Counties. He has served us as clerk for many years, overseeing the entire creation of electronic filing for all actions in the court system, a monumental and costly task.

So you could say this has basically been the laying out of the problem and an explanation of what most areas of the state are doing to deal with the problem, but there’s a back story to this and therein lies the disturbing portion.

We cut $444 million in various taxes in Florida this year — $444 million — while not funding this critical need that is roughly 5 percent of the taxes we cut. And we can argue all day long about whether we should cut taxes or fund services, but critically needed services? And taxes, well let’s ask the readers of Community Newspapers. Do you feel better that if you join a gun club that your dues will now be tax free? Yep!  one of the taxes we cut. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the chair of House Finance and Tax, says this is helping our vulnerability and creating a sense of unity. Huh?

We could write for weeks about what we in budget and taken out by the governor through use of his veto pen — well, some are so egregious we can’t ignore them. The Governor vetoed $46l million — some worthy of his pen. But the unkindest cut may have been his veto of $9.5 million for free and charitable health clinics in Florida. This on the heels of he and the House making certain we didn’t make private health insurance available for some 800,000 Floridians without coverage. This veto punished 87 clinics — nonprofit — who provide medical, dental and behavioral health care to the uninsured for little or no charge. They served l25,000 Floridians with $300 million worth of care in 20l4.

But, hey! We have plenty of money; otherwise how could we justify paying $700,000 to settle lawsuits alleging the governor and his staff subverted pubic records laws. Where’s the outrage and the outcry?

Gov. Rick Scott and legislators from both parties are touting cable and phone tax cuts, but many Floridians will see those savings eaten up by higher costs for a variety of everyday expenses next year. It will cost slightly more to drive on Florida’s turnpike. Insurance companies are seeking rate hikes for health and property coverage. FP&L was allowed to pass on to consumers the cost of drilling for gas known as fracking. Higher contributions to education funding required by the budget will put pressure on county governments’ finances.

But you can feel good about the overwhelming passage — 73 percent of the voters — of Amendment One to generate an additional $300 million for environmental spending. Reality check? The 20l5-l6 budget has less total money for the environment than before Amendment One was passed, another outrageous betrayal of the voters’ wishes.

Wake up Florida and smell the BUSTELO!

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