Group identifies “turkeys” in Legislature’s new state budget

Florida Capitol
The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Photo Colin Hackley

Gov. Ron DeSantis should veto $133 million worth of questionable spending in the new $91.1 billion state budget, according to a new report.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, released its annual “budget turkeys” report on Tuesday. It highlights 109 projects and programs in the budget that the group deems “turkeys” because they did not receive an adequate review or violated established budget procedures.

“While a project may be worthwhile, budget turkeys tend to serve a limited (not statewide) area, are often not core functions of government, are more appropriately funded with local or private dollars, and can circumvent competitive bidding or selection and oversight and accountability,” the report says.

DeSantis has yet to receive the budget bill (SB 2500) from the Legislature. Once he gets it, he will have 15 days to review it and can exercise his “line-item” veto power to remove budget items that he finds questionable. The new budget takes effect on July 1.

TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro says he expects DeSantis to use a relatively “light” touch when exercising his line-item veto power for the first time in his administration. Calabro notes the questionable spending in the report amounts to about one-tenth of 1 percent of the total budget.

TaxWatch officials credit lawmakers for recent budget reforms that have reduced the amount of “turkeys” in the annual budget. The reforms include requiring House and Senate members to file either bills or reports specifically justifying the need and cost of member-backed projects.

The largest amount of questionable expenditures in the budget is for local roads and other transportation projects, according to TaxWatch. (Not including the massive, multi-billion-dollar new statewide toll road plan the Legislature passed and DeSantis approved. )

The projects Tax Watch says circumvented the state Department of Transportation’s normal process for reviewing and recommending road projects.

The report highlights 67 questionable transportation projects backed by members totaling $85.3 million. The largest is a $13.3 million road-widening project in Citrus County. Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County Republican, sponsored the project. Simpson is one of the most powerful members of the Legislature and is in line to become the next Senate president after the 2020 elections.

The Florida Phoenix looked at some notable hometown projects – and how legislators worked to get them passed in the state budget in this report.

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