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FMCA Tallahassee Days - 2011: The Battle Continues

The news about the Florida state budget for 2011 continues to be dire. Florida legislators are struggling to meet the more than $3 billion dollar shortfall in the 2011 Florida budget. Many important and essential state programs, and many providing important services, will likely see reductions in state appropriations. In these difficult times FMCA's efforts in Tallahassee are more important than ever before in ensuring that Florida's statewide mosquito control program is capable of meeting its mission to protect the state. FMCA provides the leadership to alert Florida's legislators of the danger to the safety and well-being of Florida residents that could result from substantial reductions to the state mosquito control program.

In this difficult budget climate, close to 40 of our mosquito control colleagues, members of the FMCA, traveled to Tallahassee for meetings on April 5, 2011 with state legislators. During the course of the day the FMCA volunteers broke up into several teams to meet with about 60 different Florida legislators and/or staff members to discuss in particular state aid for Florida mosquito control. The meetings were arranged in advance by FMCA's legislative liaison in Tallahassee, Chris Lyons of Lewis, Longman and Walker.

Meetings were honest and frank. FMCA discussed the importance of the $2.16 million appropriated annually from the waste tire tax that supports Florida's ability to have a statewide mosquito control network of which $250,000 is used to support the small Florida mosquito control research program. Key points describing the importance to Florida of the state program were presented that have been discussed in previous BuzzWords columns (see, for example, Tabachnick WJ. 2009. 2010 Proposed cuts in state aid for mosquito control – Round 2. BuzzWords 9(6): 9—11 that can be obtained at http://mosquito.ifas.ufl.edu/Documents/Buzzwords/Vol9No6.pdf ). The FMCA members pointed out that state support for mosquito control has already received draconian reductions. For example in 2007 state funds in support of mosquito control included the support for mosquito control districts from the waste tire tax, support for the Dog Fly Program in North Florida, and state university funds for the Public Health Research and Education Center under Florida A&M University and the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory under the University of Florida, IFAS, and state funds to support the Tampa Department of Health Laboratory for mosquito-borne disease surveillance. In 2007, Florida, from the state level, supported a mosquito control infrastructure with close to $5.3 million. Since 2007, the Dog Fly program has been eliminated, Florida A&M University will close the PHEREC laboratory entirely as of July 1, 2011, and budget cuts at the FMEL have resulted in losses of 20% of the faculty and nearly 70% of the technical laboratory staff, and the Tampa laboratory state funds have been reduced. All told, state support for mosquito control in 2011 will be reduced by more than 60% compared to 2007 without any further reductions at all in the state aid to mosquito control provided by the waste tire tax.

No wonder FMCA is urging legislators to maintain the small waste tire state aid program and further to allow Florida to use these funds to lessen the impact caused by the already draconian budget reductions. Is it worth the risk to reduce this small program in Florida at a time when Florida faces the real risk of vector-borne disease epidemics from West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, Eastern equine encephalitis virus, and now dengue virus? Does it make sense at a time when a dengue epidemic threatens Key West and perhaps other regions in Florida? Does it make sense with the continued threat from other pathogens like malaria, chikungunya, Rift Valley fever, the risk from arboterrorism, and the loss of new control products and control strategies? Florida's legislators were very receptive to the importance of mosquito control and supported the need to maintain state aid even in these dire, tough economic times. FMCA has alerted the Florida legislature concerning the risks of reducing state aid for mosquito control. We will just have to wait and see if further cuts will be made.

The impending loss of PHEREC as of July 1, 2011, is a serious blow for Florida's capability to continue to make progress in providing efficient, effective and environmentally proper mosquito control. Florida A & M's decision to close PHEREC is a pending disaster for Florida. I applaud Rep. Jimmy Patronis' efforts to maintain PHEREC in Panama City and hope he is successful in securing funds and securing a willing parent organization with the capability to administer PHEREC in Panama City so it will have a successful future. Rep. Patronis understands the importance of the PHEREC mission. I also support FMCA's alternative efforts to save the PHEREC mission in part, if funds can be secured, by supporting the three highest priority faculty positions at the FMEL under the University of Florida – IFAS in Vero Beach. The FMEL has agreed to manage the positions to ensure they are successful in meeting the mission and would integrate these programs into the FMEL research program to benefit all of Florida. We can only hope that Florida will not lose this essential program.

A small group of FMCA representatives had the honor of meeting with the new Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Commissioner Adam Putnam. Commissioner Putnam was well versed in the issues confronting mosquito control and the importance of the waste tire tax trust fund for the state aid program. The FMCA members shared their concerns with the Commissioner. I am very pleased to report that Commissioner Putnam was very supportive about maintaining the state aid program.

These are critical times for the future and continued success of Florida mosquito control. Each year FMCA, with the support of many of the members, fights the battle to protect Florida through continued state support for Florida mosquito control. Every mosquito control professional in Florida has a responsibility to advise legislators on the impact of their budget decisions on the health and well-being of our state. It is imperative that everyone in Florida mosquito control supports the FMCA and I hope to see many more FMCA members participate and make their voices heard to establish the FMCA legislative agenda next year, and to actively participate in Tallahassee Days.

wjtWalter J. Tabachnick, Ph.D.
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
Professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
University of Florida, IFAS, Vero Beach, FL