Well, this is depressing: Last year, in the midst of the city’s financial difficulties and with Mayor Brown proposing 14 percent across-the-board cuts (which the City Council eventually replaced with a 14 percent property tax hike), the City Council zero-funded Jacksonvile Area Legal Aid, an organization that provides civil legal services for individuals who can’t afford their own attorneys — like the public defender’s office, only for foreclosures and family law disputes and the like, not criminal cases. This compounded an existing problem: JALA and other legal aid groups across the state have fallen victim to recent waves of austerity. The Florida Bar has halved its funding to legal aid organizations over the last six years. Gov. Scott has vetoed any and all state funding for legal aid, making Florida one of only three states that doesn’t believe the poor should have legal representation when going up against big banks and the like.
JALA has seen its funding from the Florida Bar Foundation wither from $1.2 million in in 2009-’10 to an expected $250,000 or so next year, which of course means fewer lawyers taking on fewer cases, and fewer poor people having someone to help them navigate the murky waters of civil and family law. And that’s why Council’s decision last year was such a devastating blow — especially considering that the three other counties JALA serves (Nassau, Clay and St. Johns) all pay more-per-poor-person than Jacksonville does, and other major Florida counties pay more than twice what Duval does for legal aid services.
So it was encouraging, then, that Brown’s budget proposal, released last month, contained $443,000 for JALA, a relative pittance (1 percent of what we dropped on those scoreboards; yeah, I know, those things came from tourist taxes that we can’t use to help poor people, but still) that could help JALA rebuild from the the recent devastating cuts. And then, just like that, the Council’s Finance Committee decided to eliminate JALA’s funding again, because who needs that shit?
The rationale, if you will, was that Brown’s proposal dipped into the city’s pretty-healthy reserve fund to pay for this and other ambitions, and Councilman Richard Clark has decided that everything should be funded just like it was last year.
Last week, the Legal Aid match was one of the first cuts made by the council’s Finance Committee. Line item by line item, the nine-member group eliminated every funding increase to programs, services and departments. Instead, it rolled back expenditures to last year’s levels.
The problem? The program didn’t exist last year, meaning the $443,000 figure dropped to nothing.
The program also won’t be receiving Public Service Grant dollars, just like last year. It was the first time in several years it didn’t receive such funding.
… Like cuts to investments Brown planned for public service grants, the Cultural Council of Greater [Jacksonville], the Jacksonville Public Library and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office last week, any restoration of legal aid funding likely will have to come from cutting elsewhere.
That’s been the warning from committee Chair Richard Clark, who has maintained the stance of city spending aligning with revenue and not from reserves or one-time money.
According to Clark’s numbers and adhering to those principles, the more than $19 million hole the committee began with has been reduced to just over $4 million.
So, to recap … no legal aid, no more cops, no more library funding, but hey, we’ve got a bunch of money in the savings account! (Maybe JALA would have more success if they relocated to EverBank?)