Each year following the spring legislative session, Florida TaxWatch releases its list of what it calls “budget turkeys.”
The group this year hung the moniker on 109 appropriations worth $133 million in local projects that it says should be cut from the state budget.
There’s nothing to indicate Gov. Ron DeSantis will take the TaxWatch recommendations to heart. But should he do so, there are projects in Alachua County and other counties in the region that could be scrubbed in the process.
TaxWatch makes it clear budget turkeys have nothing to do with the worthiness of any of the projects — only the way they made it to DeSantis’ desk. Most of these were inserted into the budget as 11th-hour supplemental funding while the House and Senate settled their budget differences. They weren’t properly vetted, TaxWatch says.
Its website lists the budget turkey criteria including:
• A project that circumvents established review and selection processes or has completed the established process but is funded ahead of much higher priority projects (as determined by the selection process);
• Appropriations that are inserted in the budget during conference committee meetings, meaning they did not appear in either the final Senate or House budgets; and/or
• Appropriations from inappropriate trust funds; duplicative appropriations; and appropriations contingent on legislation that did not pass.
A splash pad in Archer, budgeted at $125,000, was among the parks projects recommended for DeSantis to veto. Parks projects are supposed to be approved through a competitive grant program through the Department of Environmental Protection, according to TaxWatch, but the Legislature instead included funding in the budget for the splash pad and 11 other parks projects that weren’t approved through that process.
In all, TaxWatch says the budget process was cleaner this year, due predominantly to tougher appropriations laws passed in 2017 that have reduced the number of former turkeys.
However lawmakers, ever-vigilant to end-around laws they pass corralling their own spending excesses, have now begun to dust the budget with what’s being called “sprinkles.” It’s a process to approve expenditures TaxWatch says “circumvent transparency and accountability.”
TaxWatch notes though, sprinkles this year are more costly than turkeys prior to the tighter appropriations rules. Last year it identified 87 appropriations totaling $147.5 million.
This year the Senate sprinkled in 127 items worth $153 million, while the House accounted for 110 items totaling $136 million. These are called “member” projects — meaning House and Senate members. “This means,” TaxWatch wrote, ”$289.7 million in hard-earned taxpayer dollars were spent as almost an afterthought, after all the various budget areas had been ‘closed-out.’”
In all, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and we may be part of the problem — leaning on local representatives to push through projects we need or want. And they can say they tried, which they do. Don’t we typically support lawmakers who “bring home the bacon?”
These “turkey” designations may or may not affect those bills signed or vetoed by Gov. DeSantis. We’ll have to wait and see.
This editorial originally appeared in the St. Augustine Record.