If You Have It, Spend It
Around the State
Legislators had a lot of money to play with this year for the first time in a while, so they played.
"In this budget, I've started to see a lot of special member projects," Gov. Rick Scott said at a press gaggle last week.
"This is the first time since 2006 we have a surplus. I want to make sure that we spend the money well, so I'll expect, like I have the past two years, legislators to come explain to me what their rationale for this is. I'm responsible for all 19.2 million Floridians and I want to make sure we get a return on investment …
“Legislators, I'm sure, want to come and explain why they make sense for the whole state."
Special member projects is a euphemism for “turkeys,” which is a Florida euphemism for what is called pork in Washington.
Generally, it means that taxpayers at one level pay for stuff for which other people – or no one – should be paying.
Each year, when legislative delegations return home, the first thing they brag about to the local voters is how much money they snatched from the other taxpayers in the state.
Newspapers – that should be watchdogs for the public – applaud the legislators for chiseling other people out of their money. The local politicians thank them profusely (for relieving the local politicians of accountability).
No one ever tips off the happy taxpayers that they wouldn't have to pay so much in taxes if they weren't getting all this free money.
Is this all politics amounts to – moving money around and bringing home the bacon?
Fortunately, Florida TaxWatch has for many years pored over the appropriations bill and identified the turkeys. They issue a report each year and generally whoever is the governor will, to avoid the shame of inaction, veto many of the turkeys.
Thus, Scott's vigilance. Also, as a businessman and not a politician, he probably hates to see money wasted. In the private sector, waste is punished, not praised.
TaxWatch defines turkeys as projects inserted mysteriously into the appropriations bill during the process, or projects local taxpayers should fund.
If a project is justified, propose it and debate it and vote on it.
If the folks in Two Egg need a new community chicken coop, let them raise the money and build one. There is no sound reason families in Yeehaw Junction should donate money that could go into their children's college fund.
Last year the tab for turkeys totaled more than $200 million. Scott knocked out 90 percent with his veto pen.
Worse than the monetary cost, however, is the impression it gives that government's main function is to redistribute wealth – an idea that already prevails in Washington but should be resisted in Tallahassee.
Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as speech writer for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.