On Friday, fiscal watchdog Florida TaxWatch released its annual report on turkeys in the budget and urged Gov. Rick Scott to use the line-item veto to ensure these projects are not included in the final budget.
According to the group, legislators added 107 turkeys to the budget, costing Florida taxpayers almost $121 million. Despite this, Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, had generally kind things to say about the legislators and the $77 billion budget they crafted.
"Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for creating a balanced budget that meets the needs of many of our citizens and returns money to Florida's hard-working taxpayers through tax cuts, but as the taxpayers' watchdog, it is our responsibility to disclose each of the projects that did not receive adequate scrutiny during the budget process," Calabro said on Friday.
Florida TaxWatch identified as turkeys projects that were added onto the budget with little in the way of transparency.
"It is understandable that lawmakers would like to share this year's budget surplus with their local constituents through member projects," said Kurt Wenner, vice president for tax research at Florida TaxWatch. "However, in order to ensure transparency during appropriations and that proper accountability standards are in place for these projects, the Legislature should establish a competitive selection process for them to receive funding."
The report also points toward other projects the revenue could be spent on, including increasing educational funding, raising state employee salaries and cutting the Agency for Persons With Disabilities' waitlist by more than 4,000 people.
"The projects included in this year's Budget Turkey Report were appropriated outside of transparent budgeting channels which provide standards for accountability," said Calabro. "This year's Budget Turkeys cost taxpayers more than $120 million of their hard-earned money that could have gone to fund other projects that demonstrated need."
Not surpirsingly, some of the most populated counties in Florida contained the most turkeys, with Hillsborough County generating 12 of them and Miami-Dade 11 of them. Broward County was home to nine turkeys while Pinellas County hosted eight of them and Orange County seven. But not all large counties drew turkeys. Duval County had only three.
Scott received the budget earlier this week on his desk. He has until June 4 to sign it and include any line-item vetoes he wishes to implement.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.