Florida Politics

If government shuts down, a doomsday scenario would emerge in Florida

If the state government shuts down July 1, street lights will go dark, teachers could go unpaid and the state will stop monitoring privately owned prisons.

At the request of Gov. Rick Scott, state agency heads this week spelled out some of the ways Floridians would be affected if lawmakers can’t agree on a budget by June 30. Gov. Rick Scott requested the reports, which show that the state would stop building roads and bridges and that responses to emergencies could be affected in the middle of hurricane season.

So far, no one is predicting it will come to that.

The Florida Senate and House are meeting in a special session starting June 1 with the predominant goal of breaking a stalemate over health care spending and adopting a budget for the pending fiscal year.

But if their stalemate continues and Florida resorts to a bare-bones spending plan as suggested by Scott, results could be dire.

Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon didn’t mince words in his response to the governor: “These unintended and unforeseen consequences are numerous and would undoubtedly result in economic losses and could also directly result in the loss of life.”

Scott spokesman John Tupps said there are other options to fund emergency response if need be, particularly during hurricanes.

Schools could be hit hard, too. Without state funding, it would be up to each school district to decide if and how to pay teachers, fund summer school and prepare for the coming school year, Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

Districts could dip into funding reserves to keep paychecks flowing to teachers and other employees who are paid during summer break. Still, some teachers could have to wait until a budget is passed to be paid.

“School districts live on the edge economically as it is,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association. “To have even a few weeks worth of delay is just not in the best interests of children.”

Recipients of Medicaid — the program at the heart of the budget standoff — could face loss of access to pharmacies and physicians, putting strain on emergency rooms as the only remaining option for health care, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Some agencies, including the Department of Corrections and Department of Law Enforcement, have identified all of their work as critical, saying even in a government shutdown, prisons ought to be staffed and criminal investigations should continue.

But the agency responsible for oversight of seven private prisons would stop working. No one from the state would be monitoring the conditions of approximately 10,000 inmates.

“There will be no oversight pursuant to the condition of facilities, treatment of inmates, safety and hygiene protocols,” the report submitted by the Department of Management Services says.

Although there has been no indication of compromise on a health care funding impasse that derailed the budget process this spring, House and Senate leadership say they’re confident a budget deal will be reached.

Earlier, Senate leaders criticized Scott for alarming Floridians with talk of a government shutdown.

House Appropriations Chair Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, on Tuesday said the House and Senate have continued negotiations. He is confident a shutdown — and its doomsday scenarios — will be avoided.

“There’s probably some benefit to being aware of the consequences of not coming to a budget agreement,” Corcoran said. “But I think we’re going to get there.”

The governor, too, said through a spokeswoman that he is “cautiously optimistic” a budget will land on his desk for a signature or veto in June.

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

State government shutdown?

Here is the potential impact on various state agencies if the Florida Legislature cannot resolve the budget stalemate by July 1:

▪ Private prisons wouldn’t be monitored routinely.

▪ Response time to emergencies could be delayed.

▪ School district reserve funds would have to be used to pay teachers and keep classrooms open.

▪ Maintenance and construction of roads and bridges would stop.

▪ Medicaid recipients would lose access to most health care.

Source: Florida agencies in reports to Gov. Rick Scott’s office