A government watchdog group says the number of “budget turkeys” approved by state lawmakers in next year’s budget were “relatively” limited this year as the result of new appropriations rules. But, Florida TaxWatch says there were still 87 turkeys included in the spending plan approved by Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last month totaling $147.5 million.
TaxWatch released its annual Budget Turkey Watch Report Wednesday. The report is intended to promote additional oversight of the state budget process.
A budget turkey is the name given to items placed in the final budget plan that did not go through the regular legislative process and scrutiny that other bills go through. Budget turkeys are usually local member projects.
According to TaxWatch, out of the 87 turkeys included in the $88.7 billion budget, 56 of them included local transportation projects totaling $120 million. The group says those were local projects that avoided going through the normal transportation evaluation process, potentially taking state dollars from other projects that are in the Department of Transportation’s work plan.
“Since 1983, Florida TaxWatch has used the Budget Turkey Watch Report to encourage a more thoughtful and thorough budget process,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “While the new rules have limited the number of turkeys, the number of member projects passed this year is troubling. We hope that this report brings light to this important issue and motivates Floridians to hold the government accountable.”
Calabro says, even with the new rules, this year’s budget contains 517 member projects worth more than $560 million. This brings the two-year total, since the rules were adopted, to more than 1200 members projects worth $1.2 billion.
He says the numbers should be a red flag for state legislative leaders.
“And with the forecast significant future budget shortfalls, we hope it motivate legislators to adopt our recommendations to limit and better vet member projects, focusing spending on statewide core government functions,” Calabro added.
The release of TaxWatch’s budget turkeys usually precedes the governor’s budget action, giving TaxWatch the opportunity to makes recommendations regarding the veto of local projects. This year, due to the quick turnaround of the budget–five days from the Legislature passing the spending bill to the governor signing it into law–the group was prevented from releasing its budget turkeys prior to the governor taking action.