The annual budget analysis identifies $170.9 million in projects
TALLAHASSEE, FL — For the second year in a row, despite another multibillion budget shortfall, a surprisingly large number of member projects and other projects historically referred to as “turkeys” found their way into the FY 2012-13 state budget. Florida TaxWatch identified 159 appropriations (the largest number of projects since 2007), costing taxpayers $170.9 million. This includes 16 economic development projects worth $21.3 million for which a veto is not recommended, but requiring further review and clearer accountability. (please see “Economic Development Projects” below).
The annual Florida TaxWatch Turkey Watch spotlights legislative projects placed in the budget without the proper opportunity for public review and debate, which circumvent lawfully established procedures, or which non-competitively benefit a very limited special interest or local area of the state. Last year, Governor Rick Scott vetoed over 90% of the items identified as turkeys, and over the more than two decades of the Turkey Watch Report, Florida Governors have vetoed approximately $2 billion in projects that have appeared on the Florida TaxWatch turkey list. The “budget turkey” label does not necessarily judge a project’s worthiness, but instead is focused on the budget process, mainly instances where the Legislature has not followed its own policies and procedures to ensure the highest standards of accountability and government efficiency.
“Despite sometimes contentious budget debates of relatively small amounts of money, a large number of member projects found their way into the budget,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “While the legislature should be commended for making state government leaner and more efficient, and making, unpopular decisions in the best interest of Floridians this year, their achievements make the high number of Turkeys disappointing. In yet another budget year requiring substantial cuts, our legislators should have been asdisciplined and consistent with taxpayer money as Florida families are forced to be with their own budgets.”
There were some bi-partisan protests when member projects, some vetoed last year,starting showing up in the budget drafts of appropriation subcommittees. But more kept getting added. Many of the items on the Florida TaxWatch turkey list were added in the budget conference process, after the full House and Senate had voted out their spending plans. Even more were added after the conference committees had finished their work and unresolved issues were “bumped” to the leadership. This year, 72 turkeys worth $82.6 million were added during conference.
The report highlights several areas of the budget where questionable processes lead to numerous turkeys. The legislature largely ignored the priority lists of the Board of Governors and Division of Florida Colleges in funded $100 million of higher education facilities. Nineteen local water projects worth $19 million were put in the budget without review or input from the Department of Environmental Protection, despite a law requiring such a review. Twelve projects worth $7 million were added to the economic transportation, most of them added in conference, without review of either the Department of Transportation or the Department of Economic Opportunity.
A Note about Economic Development Projects
The legislature provided funding for numerous economic development projects. These projects were specified in proviso in the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Any of these projects that were added during conference received the “turkey” designation. Several of the projects were included in either the House or Senate budget. Due to the focus of this legislature and the Governor on economic development and job creation, and because there is no established process for selecting these types of projects, Florida TaxWatch is allowing for some legislative discretion for these projects that surfaced earlier in the process. For all these economic development items, Florida TaxWatch is not recommending a straight veto, but recommends that the Governor, along with the Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida, make an assessment of each project. The assessment should determine if the projects are consistent with the goals of DEO and the state economic development program, that there is a reasonable assurance that they will provide new jobs and a positive return on investment, and that there are accountability and performance measures in place to safeguard the taxpayers’ investment. If any of these projects do not meet those standards, the Governor should veto them. There are 16 of these projects, totaling $21.3 million.
Florida TaxWatch is a statewide, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and governmentwatchdog that over its 32-year history has become widely recognized as the watchdog of citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars. Our mission is to provide the citizens of Florida and public officials with high quality, independentresearch and education on government revenues, expenditures, taxation, public policies and programs and to increase the productivity and accountability of Florida Government. On the web at www.FloridaTaxWatch.org