TaxWatch Catches $60.6 million in 'Budget Turkeys'
Around the State
Projects slipped into the budget late in the negotiation process or without adequate public review could gobble up nearly $60.7 million in the proposed $70.4 billion budget now on Gov. Charlie Crist’s desk.
And Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog, wants the governor to veto these "budget turkeys."
Lawmakers slipped 41 such turkeys into the budget this year, the pro-business nonprofit revealed Monday, and they are costing the state needed transportation funds and services for vulnerable Floridians.
Many of the turkeys, such as a $1.3 million visual barrier across from a Martin County weigh station, were introduced in 11th-hour budget conferences, when lawmakers were bleary-eyed and eager to go home. Other such late-in-the-game additions included an $8.5 million rural pharmacy program at a Florida A&M University in Crestview, vetoed last year and re-submitted, and the $1.7 million Pepper Senior Center in Miami-Dade County.
Other projects were in the House or Senate budgets, but were not requested by an agency or recommended by the governor. Costly examples of these include a $4.5 million debt service to the Leon County Civic Center and $1 million for the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center.
The most costly programs raided the State Transportation Fund for $10 million each.
“All it takes is for one person on one side to just say no,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of TaxWatch.
Calabro said TaxWatch listing a project as a turkey was not a comment on the project‘s merit. It is instead in opposition to the way the projects were tucked into the budget to gain state funds. The projects could take money from other areas of government, and they should be removed.
Calabro said the turkeys took away money that could have reduced a raid on the state Transportation Trust Fund by nearly half. It could have restored more than $27 million to programs for vulnerable Floridians, such as an eliminated subsidy for parents who adopted foster children and the Healthy Start Coalition and Healthy Families Florida programs, which are facing cuts of $2.6 million and $10 million, respectively.
Florida has more turkeys than last year, but it has the third lowest number of such projects since 2000. In 1991, 1992, and 2003, the state had no turkeys.
Reach Alex Tiegen at (561) 329-5389 or Alex.Tiegen@gmail.com