Florida TaxWatch is callin’ turkey on nearly $4 million in regional infrastructure projects approved by the state Legislature.
The government watchdog organization, which has published a budget review following each legislative session since 1986, identified three Santa Rosa County appropriations and two Walton County appropriations as turkeys in this year’s review.
Florida TaxWatch calls upon the governor each year to use his line-item veto to slash projects identified as turkeys from the state budget. This year the group identified 109 appropriations whose elimination would save the state $133 million.
Okaloosa County avoided the list for the first time in recent memory.
Identified as Walton County turkeys were an $850,000 project to make improvements at the Bear Creek Bridge in Freeport and $1 million for improvements on U.S. Highway 331 and County Road 30A.
The 331/30A improvements, in a heavily traveled area popular with tourists, “will assist the county’s efforts to divert and manage stormwater runoff in environmentally sensitive areas,” along the two roads, according to a legislative summary.
State Rep. Brad Drake, who represents Walton County and a handful of other rural Northwest Florida counties, called the TaxWatch turkey assessment off base.
“Generally speaking, anybody who is going to criticize infrastructure projects in small communities can go pound sand,” Drake said. “I will stand by these projects every day.”
Freeport, Drake noted, is projected to see a possible tripling of its population within the next five to 10 years.
TaxWatch called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto funding for three Santa Rosa County projects. Those included $1 million to fund a Northwest Florida I-10 Industrial Park connector road and another $500,000 for improvements at the park. The group also urged DeSantis to cut $250,000 set aside for a 4-lane expansion of Woodbine Road.
State Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Gulf Breeze, said he doesn’t know how investing in roads and industrial parks to expand economic development can be considered anything but money well spent.
“The people of Santa Rosa County sent plenty of money to Tallahassee, and it’s my job to bring some of that back here,” he said. “I’m proud of these projects. I support these projects 100 percent.”
In publishing its annual list, Florida Tax stated — as it always does — that “The Budget Turkey label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness.”
“Budget Turkeys are items, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget process,” said the report summary, which was released Wednesday.
“The purpose of the Budget Turkey label is to ensure that all appropriations using public funds receive the deliberation, debate and accountability they deserve,” the summary said.
Drake said the Florida TaxWatch concerns have been superseded by legislation introduced three years ago which requires each individual funding bill introduced in the Legislature to pass through the committee process and be heard on the floor prior to passage.