Florida TaxWatch, a bipartisan, nonprofit tax watchdog, released its annual Budget Turkey Watch report for the 2022-23 fiscal year on Thursday. Budget Turkeys are items, usually local member projects, placed 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.
The $112.1 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature for the fiscal year of 2022-23 contains 166 appropriations items worth $281.0 million qualifying as Budget Turkeys. These are only a portion of the record-setting 1,200 member projects in the new budget worth $2.8 billion. In addition, the Legislature created a new program to allow members to request at least $80 million in additional local projects from the federal State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
“There are more than 1,200 member projects – worth $2.8 billion – in this budget, and while they don’t always meet Budget Turkey criteria, their considerable value still gives us pause because it’s equivalent to the combined total spent on member projects over the last five years,” Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said. “We’re hopeful Governor DeSantis will carefully scrutinize these projects when applying his line-item veto power to strike appropriations from the budget.”
While $281 million of the budget is scrutinized, it still amounts to a far smaller value than initially anticipated. Roughly .025 percent of the budget totality, Florida TaxWatch expressed satisfaction in the appropriation of funds.
“This year, the Florida Legislature got it mostly right. Hats off to Senate President Simpson and House Speaker Sprowls for being good stewards of the people’s money. For us Budget Turkey hunters, it was a lean year,” said Florida TaxWatch Board Chairman Senator George S. LeMieux.
Many of the Budget Turkey items are local small-scale infrastructure projects like park improvements, water management, and sports complex construction and maintenance.
One member project, however, sticks out from the rest: a $25,000 grant for the Nygren Buggy Collection — an exhibit that showcases a series of 32 horse-drawn buggies in Seminole County.
The Buggy Collection grant perhaps differs in importance from similarly-priced grants highlighted in the report like a veterans museum in Vero Beach or an Early Learning initiative in the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History, exemplifying the importance of Florida TaxWatch’s Budget Turkey Watch.
Florida TaxWatch additionally recommends the implementation of a thorough review process for member projects, citing the lack of a preexisting system and the possibility of poor fiscal planning.
“To make sure that these projects are prioritized, funded with a transparent, coordinated, statewide vision, compete for limited funding fairly, and meet specified requirements to qualify for funding, Florida TaxWatch recommends that, if the Legislature is going to fund such projects, it creates a competitive review and selection process,” the report reads.