$29M cut from substance abuse programs as repairs to $28M parking garage wrap up

Underground garage holds 210 cars at a cost of $133K per space

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - What do a parking garage for state senators and substance abuse treatment programs have in common?

Nothing, but the state is choosing one over the other when it comes to funding.

It has cost $28 million in repairs to fix a parking garage for state senators and their staff -- and the job is nearly complete. The underground garage holds 210 cars, so the cost is $133,000 per space. 

Just across the street, another parking garage, with room for 100 cars, sits empty.

The spending is taking place as the Department of Corrections is cutting a similar amount of money: $29 million from substance abuse treatment.

The cuts will close some programs and send some offenders to prison. 

“And every community will be affected -- drug courts in particular,” said Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association. “Veterans courts will lose (too. They) will have a greatly diminished option.”

Fontaine is a 40-year veteran in the fight against drugs.

Officials with the Department of Corrections said the cuts are needed to fund inmate health care.

“Mental health is health care, but substance abuse is not. They are drawing a distinction,” Fontaine said. “We don’t think there is a distinction. … This is health care.”

State lawmakers could make budget amendments to save the programs before the cuts take effect a week from Friday, but so far, they aren’t budging. The treatment programs make up just 1.5 percent of the Department of Corrections’ $2.4 billion budget.

“It’s hard to imagine in a budget that you can’t find 1.5 percent,” Fontaine said.

Senators said they will deal with the substance abuse funding in the fall or spring.

But by then, it might be too late for some of the programs to survive, and some people receiving treatment could be behind bars.

It seems the parking garage repairs were necessary for safety, but constructing new, above-ground parking would have cost less than half as much.

Fontaine did not respond to a direct question about drug treatment being less of a priority than underground parking for elected officials. 

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