From balancing a state budget to considering hundreds of bills, Florida lawmakers face a lot of tough challenges during the annual 60-day legislative session. With so many matters to address, there’s certainly plenty of room for debate and disagreement.
But here’s something everyone can agree on: Let’s cut government waste.
There’s an easy place to start. A few years ago, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice began overbilling local taxpayers for juvenile detention costs. This occurred because of a bureaucratic blunder, not because of any changes to the law. The result: Florida’s local communities were forced to overpay millions for juvenile detention costs.
Not surprisingly, this has triggered a of lot disputes between Florida’s counties and state bureaucrats. But these billing disputes are needless. They cause Floridians to question the common sense of their government in Tallahassee and the reliability of the agencies that are supposed to serve their interests. Ending future disputes will allow both state and local governments to focus on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs that reduce juvenile detention and cut costs at the same time.
Already, a number of thoughtful state lawmakers — House Speaker Will Weatherford, Rep. Seth McKeel and Sen. Rob Bradley — have put forth workable solutions. They deserve a lot of credit for their common sense and vision. Fortunately, the Florida House has agreed to return roughly $140 million that local communities were overbilled in recent years and laid the groundwork for a better business model that would prevent future mistakes by DJJ and stem the cycle of disputes.
The House bill would also establish a 50-50 partnership between state government and local communities, adopting a “you-only-pay-for-what-you-use” approach to juvenile detention that cuts government waste and, inevitably, improves youth services, too. The House approach is a true compromise and a true partnership. It would make good on years of discussions aimed at avoiding litigation and eliminating bureaucracy.
Sure, this isn’t the hot-button issue of the year. But addressing DJJ’s faulty billing system should be one of the easiest and least controversial problems to solve. Thanks to the leadership of the House, we’ve got a unique window of opportunity to fix the problem today and save tax dollars tomorrow. This sensible agreement is a “fair share” partnership that would finally replace DJJ’s flawed and arbitrary approach with one that leaves no room for misinterpretation by agency bureaucrats. It’s good government, plain and simple.
Let’s hope Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate follow the lead of the House.
Bryan Desloge is president of the Florida Association of Counties. He is a Leon County Commissioner.