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Politics

Efficiency Panel Floats Privatization Ideas

September 18, 2011 - 6:00pm

Privatizing state-run higher education, airports, seaports and toll roads were among suggestions proposed Monday by members of the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force.

Also put on the table by task force members were reducing sentencing time for juvenile misdemeanor offenses, consolidating government agencies, eliminating business regulations, downloading textbooks rather than buying hard copy editions, and going to year-round schooling

Established in 2006, the 15-member task force, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, is required to meet once every four years. For the next several months, the committee will meet to craft recommendations for the governor, Legislature and state Supreme Court.

We cant legislate good or bad behavior, but we can look at policy on how to motivate that change, said Abraham Uccello, appointed by Scott and chairman of the task force.

No fiscal estimates were offered on any of the proposals as members of the task force for the first time gave their own proposals to meet Scotts request for $3 billion in savings in four years.

Uccello hopes to have the first recommendations ready for the governor and Legislature by late autumn.

Several task force members said the committee should consider the recently released Florida TaxWatch report that proposes $4.1 billion in savings through trimming state spending in such areas as criminal justice, health care, Medicaid and education.

Im not saying we implement everything they have suggested, but I think it would be a great starting place, said task force member Ann Duncan.

Former Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul, a member of the task force, said a philosophical change on department spending is needed. He said many state agencies believe they must spend every dollar budgeted before the fiscal year ends in order to get the same amount of funding in the following year.

I dont know how deep drilling were going to get to, I know were talking about state government, but there are certainly some opportunities, maybe, to survey other governments' relations as well, Cretul said. Im not advocating any changes. Im just throwing it out there.

Task force member Belinda Keiser, associate vice chancellor of Keiser University, suggested school districts look at downloading textbooks rather than buying them, since students are now being encouraged to take at least one online class. She also said school districts should further explore the idea of year-round schools.

Florida invests significant resources for building for higher ed, Keiser said. If we move in this direction, we could look to see increased opportunity for employment for faculty and staff.

Task force member Frances Rice, an attorney from Sarasota, proposed mass privatization of state-run programs, entities and enterprises, ranging from Citizens Property Insurance to higher education, prisons, professional sports stadiums and toll roads.

Others picked up on the idea of putting all toll roads in the state under private management.

Task force member Robert Stork proposed reducing jail time for juveniles convicted of misdemeanors and using computer models to standardize sentencing for juveniles in misdemeanor cases, based on the risk of future offenses or potential costs of incarceration.

He said the longer juveniles spend in jail, the better the chance they will become repeat offenders.

If we cant treat our children properly, they will be in prison their whole lives, Stork said.

Contact Jim Turner at jturne@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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