Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Florida News

Florida TaxWatch ‘Budget Turkeys’: Down, But Still Too Much Murk in Project Spending

TALLAHASSEE, FL – It’s been a post-session tradition since 1983 for Florida TaxWatch (FTW), the Tallahassee-based taxpayer advocacy nonprofit, to produce an annual “budget turkey” list of “individual appropriations that circumvent a thoughtful and thorough budget process.”

FTW released its 2021 Budget Turkey Watch Monday that identifies 116 appropriations worth $157.5 million inserted into the state’s $101.5 billion budget without proper review.

The Budget Turkey report is available here.

The report “is our effort to shine a light on member projects that may otherwise have gone unnoticed, without proper public input and debate, and ensure the best interests of Florida taxpayers are being served,” FTW Senior Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner said.

Last year, FTW tabbed $136.3 million in 180 appropriations included in the budget without the proper review.

FTW notes how an “unthinkable” turn in fortunes, boosted by federal pandemic assistance and swifter-than-expected economic recovery, reversed an anticipated multi-billion-dollar shortfall and allowed Florida to boost reserves and keep $10 billion in federal money out of its operations budget.

“So, while all this available money allowed for significant turkeys, it could have been worse,” FTW notes.

“The number of member projects, both requested and funded, decreased considerably this year and positive actions by legislators – fewer projects added during conference negotiations and through supplemental appropriations – coupled with some restraint shown in the face of windfall revenues, helped reduce the number of ‘Budget Turkeys’ this year,” FTW said.

“This is far fewer projects than the 304 items added last year. While the dollar amount is larger, that is due to significant funding being added to established statewide state government programs,” it said.

FTW President/CEO Dominic Calabro said the 116 “budget turkeys” barely scratch the surface of the 675 individual “member projects” in the budget worth $560.1 million, “sprinkles” that include 115 Senate member projects totaling $165.5 million and 76 totaling $182.2 million in the House.

“There remains … excessive spending on local projects,” FTW states. “While many of these projects are worthwhile, some are harder to justify.

The state’s Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (DACS) submitted 16 construction projects that met requirements for funding but did not request funding for any. The Legislature, nevertheless, funded 17 DACS projects worth $10.2 million.

The Florida Beach Management Funding Assistance Program will receive $150 million, including $100 million in non-recurring funds. Two projects – $1.75 million for Madeira Beach groin rehabilitation and $3.5 million for Ponte Vedra Beach dune restoration – vetoed by DeSantis last year “circumvented the grant application and ranking process” and are back in the budget, FTW notes.

The Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program submitted a ranked list of 40 projects totaling $2 million and 43 large development projects totaling $7.9 million. After fully funding both FRDAP lists last year, the Legislature funded the small project but not the large project list, providing $2 million for approved projects.

However, FTW states, “The Legislature appropriated $5.8 million for 12 projects not approved through the process.”

An $8 million project “that made its first appearance without comment at the very last minute of the budget negotiations“ is $8 million for manatee habitat restoration.

Acknowledging “Florida’s manatees are in crisis,” FTW notes the federal government has begun its own manatee mortality study. “The Governor’s office should examine whether the plan for using these dollars meshes with the federal investigation,” it suggests.

FTW offers these recommendations:

• Establish competitive selection processes to ensure member projects are funded with a coordinated, statewide vision.

• Prohibit supplemental funding lists (“sprinkles”) developed and agreed to in private;

• End “repeated earmarking” of local transportation projects through legislation that would create a formal process to select and prioritize projects.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license. Images and layout added by the Observer.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.