As the Florida Senate began considering its proposed $80.9 billion budget, state Sen. Don Gaetz on Wednesday defended his recommendation for a $30 million competitive grants program for after-school mentoring instead of direct funding.
Gaetz, who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said he wanted to save nonprofits on “expensive lobbying and the anguish of the Legislative Session.”
“We shouldn’t have to put those people through that,” the Niceville Republican said, referring to being left out of the budget.
His subcommittee “felt that (by) taking it out of a politicized, lobbying-intensive process, and making it more of an analysis of return on investment, it might provide a better shot for the programs,” he said.
But the state’s nonprofit child welfare organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters, have said the proposal will unfairly pit those and other groups against each other for money, with no guarantees that long-standing programs will be funded.
Several Democrats and state Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, raised concerns, including whether programs could apply and get funded in time for the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
Under Gaetz’s plan, money will be awarded by a committee of members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and could include Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll, and other top officials.
“There would be no remarkable difference at all in terms of cash flow,” Gaetz said, assuming that a program is picked for funding. The state’s payment system doesn’t necessarily guarantee a check the first day of July anyway, he said.
State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, also worried about the selection committee’s time constraints: “I think you have a very good idea but I wonder if it could be stretched out a little if we don’t (yet) have a process in place.”
Gaetz countered that if lawmakers can produce a state budget in a nine-week legislative session, a grants committee can review and approve applications between the end of session in March and July.
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa took Gaetz to task over the criteria he proposed to get funding. They include “demonstrated favorable return-on-investment and low administrative overhead,” “extensive use of unpaid community volunteers” and a lack of “disproportionate reliance on government funding.”
Joyner suggested some organizations may have a problem meeting all of the standards. Gaetz said the committee will decide how much weight to give each one.
“My wife told me she had five criteria for a potential husband,” he said. “I barely met three of them … but I got the deal.”
The Senate continued to deliberate Wednesday afternoon, with a vote set for Thursday. The House is meeting on its budget this week; the two chambers are about $1 billion apart.
Once both sides have approved their individual spending plans, members will go into a conference process to produce a final plan to send to Gov. Rick Scott.
The 2016 Legislative Session is scheduled to end March 11.