TaxWatch finds $120 million in budget 'turkeys'

By Steve Patrick, Managing editor of digital content, spatrick@news4jax.com
Scott Johnson, General assignment reporter, sjohnson@wjxt.com
Published On: May 23 2014 01:03:53 PM EDT
Updated On: May 24 2014 12:39:57 AM EDT

VIDEO: Some last minute additions to Florida's budget has a tax watch group unhappy. The group Florida TaxWatch has released it's 2014 budget turkey report, for additions to the budget they think were added without much discussion.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Florida's $77.1 billion 2014-2015 budget awaiting action by Gov. Rick Scott contains 107 projects costing $120 million inserted into the budget and not publicly vetted by lawmakers, according to the 2014 Budget Turkey Report from Florida TaxWatch.

The annual independent budget review highlights appropriations that the group says circumvented transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting.

"Our point is: You don’t bring in brand-new projects that haven’t been discussed at that point. We want to see them go through the process like everything else," said Kurt Wenner, TaxWatch's vice president for research.

The last-minute additions that inflate taxpayer spending usually come up during lawmaker negotiations.

"The state’s budget grew by $1.8 billion over what the House had recommended; $2.2 billion over what the Senate had recommended," Wenner said.

FULL DOCUMENT: 2014 Budget Turkey Report

This year's "turkeys" make up less than one-quarter of 1 percent of this year's state budget -- the largest in Florida's history.

Scott is required to sign the budget and exercise his constitutional line-item veto authority and responsibility by June 4.

Among the projects identified as turkeys by TaxWatch are:

  • $2.5 million for infrastructure at Cecil Field Spaceport
  • $1 million appropriation to fund Putnam County school construction
  • $150,000 for single-gender schools in Duval County
  • $123,000 for Riverside-Avondale Preservation to fund a dog park

Channel 4's Scott Johnson spoke to Wenner via Skype on Friday. He said he doesn't know which legislators slipped the local projects into the state budget.

“Because it's done behind closed doors, there's usually not a name attached to it,” Wenner said. “We try not to get into it anyway, because we want to keep politics out of the discussion.”

City Councilman Jim Love disagrees with TaxWatch's assessment. He supports the Riverside-Avondale dog park and said roughly half of the money for that project is being raised in donations. The other $123,000 would come from tax dollars.

“What it's going to do is allow people, particularly you have 220 Riverside, and they're going to need a place to take their dogs and let them run free,” Love said. “And anyway it's a wonderful park.”

Johnson reached out to Duval County Schools on Friday about the $150,000 in the budget for single-gender schools but hasn't received a comment yet.

TaxWatch said it's not that the projects are unnecessary. What the group objects to is the projects being slipped into the budget late without much — if any — oversight.

“You start talking about some considerable money, so we want to make sure that these projects are fully vetted,” Wenner said.

TaxWatch argues that the amount of funding for these turkeys equals the money it would take to give every state worker a $1,000 raise.

Last year TaxWatch identified $106 million in budget turkeys, of which Scott vetoed $71.1 million.

"We’re talking about a significant amount of money; government reaching into people’s pockets and taking out that money," said Robert Weissert, TaxWatch's chief research officer. "Turkeys keep popping up because it really is the sweetest thing in life to spend other people's money."

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