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Politics / Issues
Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

These 116 Budget 'Turkeys' Should Be Vetoed, Florida TaxWatch Says

Dominic Calabro talking from the podium with a statue of a turkey next to him
News Service of Florida
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Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said the 116 turkeys on his group’s annual list are “strong suggestions” for vetoes. The turkeys, a Tallahassee term for questionable spending items, total $157.5 million.

They include several in the greater Tampa Bay region, including $25 million for the Pasco-Hernando State College Center for Student Success and Community Engagement.

In a sign of how Florida’s economic outlook has changed over the past year, Florida TaxWatch isn’t emphatically calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto all of the “turkeys” it has identified in a record spending plan passed by lawmakers.

With the surprisingly flush $101.5 billion budget proposal expected to formally go to DeSantis soon, TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said Monday the 116 turkeys on his group’s annual list are “strong suggestions” for vetoes. The turkeys, a Tallahassee term for questionable spending items, total $157.5 million.

Last year, as the state’s economy was hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, TaxWatch argued for the governor to cut everything on its list of 180 projects that made the budget. Generally, turkeys are projects put into the budget without proper public oversight or that exceed publicly proposed amounts.

“Last year, we said absolutely (veto), because of the pandemic,” Calabro said. “He’s got a little bit of leeway here.”

The budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which lawmakers approved April 30, includes just under 700 line items pitched by individual lawmakers. Those items would provide nearly $550 million for local projects and organizations.

Senators proposed 1,135 different projects that would have required $1.46 billion to fully fund. House members submitted 1,060 funding requests that totaled $1.17 billion.

Projects that made it into the final budget range from $15,000 for a Bascom Museum and Cultural Center renovation project in Jackson County to $25 million for the Pasco-Hernando State College Center for Student Success and Community Engagement.

The state college project made the TaxWatch turkey list because the $25 million exceeded what was requested.

Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, asked for $12.5 million for the project, while Rep. Randy Maggard, a Dade City Republican who is a 1983 graduate of the college, proposed $10 million.

Maggard’s request for the money said, “A study by a private consultant indicates the construction of the center on the East Campus is needed to provide appropriate space for students and the community to engage in educational and other activities.”

Last year, lawmakers approved more than 750 line items exceeding $400 million. But DeSantis, who has line-item veto power, eliminated $264 million of the “member” projects. Overall, he slashed $1 billion from the budget, mostly to address anticipated revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

Requests were down for this year’s legislative session as Republicans leaders initially warned of likely budget cuts because of the pandemic. But the proposed budget for the upcoming year wound up being a record $101.5 billion because of a huge infusion of federal money and rebounding state tax revenues.

Calabro credited state lawmakers for doing a “good” job with the billions in federal relief that have helped bolster the state’s finances during the past year.

“I think Florida's been a better steward of those tax dollars, the federal funds … than other states,” Calabro said.

In putting together its annual turkey list, the non-profit TaxWatch says it doesn’t judge the merits of projects. Instead it looks at whether projects circumvented a public review process or were inserted into the budget during conference committee negotiations.

As an example, TaxWatch opposes a $3.5 million dune restoration project for Ponte Vedra Beach, saying it circumvented the Florida Beach Management Funding Assistance Program application and ranking process.

Meanwhile, TaxWatch went light on the $44.5 billion portion of the budget that funds health and human services. The proposed budget includes $91 million for 240 local health-care projects, according to an analysis obtained by The News Service of Florida.

Nine of those projects made the TaxWatch turkey list. In all, those nine projects totaled nearly $7.4 million.

News Service staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this report.

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