A state budget watchdog organization has identified $136.3 million in spending that it says was added to the $93.2 billion state budget for 2020 outside of the formal rules and urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto those projects.
Florida TaxWatch identified 180 “turkeys,” which it defines as items placed in the budget “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.”
Some turkeys in the budget include a project in Hillsborough County for water conservation at Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club at $958,000; more than $7 million for renovations at Seminole State College of Florida; and $10 million for continued development of 44th Avenue in Manatee County.
In addition, the report identifies projects that followed proper selection procedure but that might be better suited for local funding, rather than using state money.
The report also targeted projects inserted on behalf of individual lawmakers dedicated to housing and community development projects, such as building an aquarium, a botanical garden, and land acquisition for economic development.
Another point of concern was $71 million going to “120 projects for private organizations and local governments to construct, renovate, repair, or even purchase buildings/facilities the state does not/will not own.”
“In light of the current COVID-19 crisis and the increased costs and revenue shortfalls that come with it, TaxWatch is recommending that the governor review all member projects with the assumption that they should be vetoed unless their benefits are vital to the people of Florida,” the organization said.
House and Senate leaders have not sent the budget bill to the governor yet, while they await further information about how badly the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt state revenues. However, the bill needs to be signed into law before the budget year begins on July 1.
The objection is not that the projects aren’t worthwhile, the report says.
“Instead, the review focuses solely on the integrity, accountability, and transparency of the legislatively established budget process.”
Causes for concern include projects inserted outside the Legislature’s formal review process, or those of a lower priority than those not funded; items that passed neither the House or Senate but which were inserted during inter-chamber negotiations; and those paid for by dipping into unrelated trust funds, the report says.