GIVE

Cutting Florida's State Support for Mosquito Control

 

wtmoney1On March 17-18, 2009 more than 60 members of the Florida Mosquito Control Association traveled to Tallahassee as part of FMCA’s annual Tallahassee Days. In previous BuzzWords columns I reviewed the importance of this effort, particularly in the current climate where so much of Florida’s state services are imperiled by impending budget cuts due to Florida’s declining state revenues (See Tabachnick, W.J. 2008. Buzzwords 8(6): 8- 11; Tabachnick, W.J. 2009. Buzzwords 9(1): 10-11). The attendance at the FMCA 2009 Tallahassee days was impressive with three-fold more attendees than in previous years, representing about 50% of the organized mosquito control programs in Florida.

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This certainly demonstrated the overwhelming support throughout Florida for the importance of Florida’s statewide mosquito control program and the importance of the state-supported mosquito research program. Florida mosquito control has spoken loudly and consistently that any proposed draconian cuts in the state mosquito control program would imperil Florida’s ability to mitigate mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases and that this may have dire and catastrophic consequences for Florida’s future well-being. FMCA members have been adamant that the DACS proposal to cut 50% of the state programs funds would clearly be a dangerous and unwarranted reduction. The 2009 Tallahassee Days was organized by the FMCA Legislative Committee chaired by Dennis Moore and Doug Carlson with the assistance of Chris Lyon and his colleagues in the FMCA lobbying firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker. Teams of FMCA members had scheduled meetings with about 35 Florida legislators and/or their staff members where they discussed the impending DACS proposed reductions and the anticipated dire consequences of such a massive reduction on Florida’s ability to provide statewidewtmoney3 mosquito control. These were difficult and frank meetings since Florida’s legislators are facing  many hard choices about how best to meet continuing declining revenues. However, as mosquito control professionals, FMCA had the responsibility to make legislators aware of the consequences of the proposed mosquito control reductions. The FMCA consensus was that mosquito control’s concerns were well-received and that there was general support by legislators to review the DACS proposed reductions in the light of the adverse impact on the state.

Several FMCA members also had a scheduled meeting with DACS Commissioner Charles Bronson during the afternoon of March 18, after most of the other legislator meetings had been concluded. Also attending this meeting was Mr. Andrew Rackley, Division Director, DACS Division of Agricultural Environmental Services. I was privileged to be among this group which included Dennis Moore, Doug Carlson, Wayne Gale, John Smith, and Chris Lyon and David Ramba; both of Lewis, Longman & Walker. During this frank meeting we advised the Commissioner of our concerns about the DACS proposal to reduce the state mosquito control program by 50%. In summary, we strongly advised the Commissioner that in our professional capacity as mosquito control experts we had the responsibility to provide him with our collective professional opinion that the consequences of such severe reductions to wtmoney4this small program could be catastrophic for the reasons that are now well-known to FMCA and Buzzwords readers. Commissioner Bronson was extremely supportive, gracious, and recognized the importance of mosquito control to the state. However, although he agreed with the potential impact of the proposed draconian  reductions on statewide mosquito control in Florida, he frankly advised us that his department had to make many such choices in view of the declining budget. Mr. Rackley advised that the proposed reduction was the recommendation of the Division of Agricultural Environmental Services. The FMCA group strongly disagreed with the Division’s recommendation. Commissioner Bronson was attentive, receptive and wished us well in our ongoing discussions with legislators to successfully fund the Florida mosquito control program for the 2009/2010 fiscal year.

wtmoney5During the meeting with Commissioner Bronson, the FMCA group was advised by Mr. Rackley that the Department of Environmental Protection, which transfers the waste tire funds for mosquito control to DACS, has also proposed to reduce the amount transferred to DACS by over $1 million (50%). This information was a complete surprise to the FMCA contingent attending the meeting, had never been discussed previously with the FMCA, and the FMCA had received no prior knowledge of it from our colleagues in DACS. Subsequent to the March 18 meeting and nearly a week later, Angela Weeks-Samanie of DACS sent an e-mail to mosquito control Directors explaining the situation. It was unfortunate that this information had not been shared with FMCA prior to our March 18 meeting with Commissioner Bronson. Even as late as March 17, prior to the scheduled legislator meetings, knowledge of DEP’s proposal would certainly have changed the tenor and sense of urgency of the FMCA discussions with legislators.

Selected parts of an e-mail dated Mar 23, 2009 from Angela Weeks- Samanie of DACs to Florida Mosquito Control Directors

All: Due to the high volume of calls this office has been receiving regarding budget information provided during Tallahassee Days and to keep you informed of the State Approved Mosquito Control budget, we are providing the following information… As of now we have two budget proposals being considered that affect Aid to Local Governments mosquito funding. These are:

1. Governor's budget - No cuts for Mosquito Control – fully funded at 2,166,000 which means a continuation of current funding.

2. Senate proposal – DEP: $1,216,000 cut from the $ 2,160,000 allocated from the Waste Tire Trust Fund (authority: Chapter 403.79, F.S.), DACS: reduce additional $ 1,083,084 - …The proposed cut, along with a similar cut in DEP, will totally eliminate the pass-through of funds to local programs….In addition, contract research of $250,000 per year would not be conducted…

The Department would continue to regulate mosquito control activities……….to ensure compliance with applicable laws. (authority: Chapter 388, F.S.)

The budget constraints have affected us all, but we will continue to work very hard to assist and support your mosquito control efforts. In doing so, we will keep you informed as information is provided to this office.

These are indeed difficult times. Florida is facing the complete elimination of the state-wide mosquito control program, something that only a few weeks ago would have been unthinkable, when a reduction of 50% was deemed to be a potential catastrophe. There will be no state funds to support small programs, no state funds to support statewide communications, no state funds to use to leverage mosquito control obligations to DACS, and to Florida, and no state support for research to make mosquito control more effective, efficient, and environmentally proper. Florida will have no state funds to provide even the current small measure of state-wide service in support of ca. $170 million dollars in annual local funds committed to mosquito control. In view of the concerns of FMCA and professional mosquito control, why would two Florida agencies propose collectively to completely eliminate this essential state function? Since mosquito control experts in Florida have made it very clear reductions to the program will have dire consequences to Florida, what can FMCA think is the motive for continuing with the reductions? A colleague in mosquito control advised that it appears that when funds to support a program are collected and passed from one agency to another (as pass-through dollars noted in the insert e-mail), and finally to the end provider (in this case mosquito control), those funds are viewed as having little importance to the actual operation of the agency itself and are deemed at risk for elimination. This colleague continued that no wonder the “transfer” of waste tire funds to mosquito control is targeted for elimination by two agencies as part of their own budget reductions, despite the fact that such funds will continue to be collected, but apparently now used for other undefined purposes. Anyone sharing mosquito control’s belief in the importance of the state mosquito control program could perceive that eliminating the program or reducing it severely, despite many concerns about that decision, is sadly just a means of an agency or a division in the agency just self protecting government bureaucracy. But in this case what is the price to Florida’s public health? Whatever the true motive, there is certainly strong disagreement on the part of Florida mosquito control with both agencies about the importance of the state mosquito control program. How sad. How unfortunate.

FMCA has successfully fought the battle to keep the $2.16M in the 2009 proposed Governor’s budget. It remains to be seen whether these funds will be supported in the House and Senate versions of the budget as the session comes to a close. FMCA has fulfilled its responsibility to provide the state government with the expert information they need to assess the impact of the proposed reductions on the health and wellbeing of Florida residents and visitors. We can only hope that Commissioner Bronson and our Legislators make the correct decision. This is certainly a moment of truth for Florida mosquito control’s future and for the future of Florida.

Walter J. Tabachnick
Professor
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
Department of Entomology and Nematology
University of Florida – IFAS
Vero Beach, Florida

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