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Dems: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-891380.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Senate has the Department of Management Services and its eleven-hundred employees in its sights. James Call reports a key committee approved a plan to shrink the department and give its duties to other agencies.

Senator Jeremy Ring, Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, said his bill is not an attack on DMS. He proposes replacing DMS with the Department of Personnel Management and temporarily transferring property management to the Department of Environmental Protection. The Senate has been unable to get DMS to compile a list of what properties and buildings the state owns. This is a sore point among the Senate leadership, which Ring referred to when he presented the proposal.

"That's a specialty, and I believe that we need an organization that specializes specifically in asset property management for the state. Thus what we've done is kind of gearing towards creating that Department of Asset Management. "

Numerous times Ring said he was not attacking DMS but promoting a more efficient method. Any question about budget cuts and layoffs, he advised, was outside the committee's realm and would be dealt with elsewhere in the Legislature. However, Senator Al Lawson said any time you mess with state employees, you create tension with Al Lawson.

"Well, I think he is off the reservation. He's carrying the Republican Agenda."

Ring and Lawson are Democrats. Lawson is the Senate Democratic Leader.

"I guess he feels like he has to do that, being the chair of the committee."

Neither Lawson nor Ring is an attorney by trade, but their exchange during the committee at times resembled a cross examination. Ring fielded a barrage of questions from Lawson and Senator Charles Dean, who both represent a large number of state employees. They wanted to know how the plan would be implemented and how much it would cost.

Lawson: "Mr. Chairman, I believe that this will probably cost the state over $50-million. Is there any way that you would say that is true or false?"
Ring: "I don't have numbers in front of me."

Lawson said in his twenty-seven years in the Legislature, he cannot recall a reorganizational proposal that did not come with an analysis showing either savings or costs. Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander sat in on the discussion and promised that a study will be done for the plan when it appears before Ways and Means, the budget writing committee.

Ring said, "Everything we are doing here is rational. It is rational because we are moving these pieces into agencies that already have these functions. In addition to that, DMS had a core function. That function was personnel management. We're bringing DMS back to its core function, which I think actually, ultimately, probably would be very positive for state workers."

The committee passed the plan with a 5 - 3 vote. Ring, the sponsor, was the only Democrat to vote yes.