- Florida TaxWatch identified 218 appropriation items totaling $597.6 million within Florida’s $117 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 as part of its Budget Turkey Watch Report.
- The bipartisan, nonprofit tax watchdog annually underscores items, typically local member projects, placed in individual line items or accompanying proviso language of the state budget that it determines have been added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget process
- The report highlights concerns over the allocation of funds for water projects, transportation, housing, and private college and university projects, among other aspects of the state budget.
In its Budget Turkey Watch Report released Tuesday, Florida TaxWatch identified 218 appropriation items totaling $597.6 million within Florida’s $117 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24.
The bipartisan, nonprofit tax watchdog annually underscores items, typically local member projects, placed in individual line items or accompanying proviso language of the state budget that it determines have been added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized and subjected to the budget process. The organization further clarifies that the turkey label does not signify a lack of value in a project, but rather identifies appropriations that have circumvented accountability standards in public budgeting.
In the report, Florida TaxWatch advocates for a more strategic and accountable approach to the allocation of funds in Florida’s budget. The group argues that the state should prioritize statewide needs over purely local projects and recommend implementing a competitive review and selection process for various areas such as water projects, transportation, housing, and more.
According to Florida TaxWatch’s metrics, this would help sustain transparency, fair distribution of funds, and adherence to specific project requirements while balancing the interests of local communities.
“The state is still in excellent fiscal health, but our budget surplus is dwindling,” reads the report. “After accounting for all the spending in the General Appropriations Act and other substantive bills, the state is expected to have $5.3 billion in unobligated General Revenue. The growth in revenue the state has enjoyed may not happen again. Economists are expecting growth to at least slow considerably in the near future. Florida must be responsible with taxpayer money.”
In Florida TaxWatch’s purview, a collective investment of $433.0 million in water projects raises concerns due to the existence of established funding assistance programs for such endeavors. The group also pointed out the $400.7 million allocated for local transportation projects, while housing and community development initiatives are set to receive $118.0 million, and school and instructional enhancements are allotted $45.6 million.
Private college and university projects are set to receive $42.2 million, special local law enforcement initiatives will secure $90.8 million, and local fire service projects have been granted $86.4 million. Furthermore, economic development projects will be allocated $7.4 million, local emergency management programs and facilities will receive $94.3 million, and workforce projects will be allocated $11.9 million.
“When it comes to the state budget, Budget Turkeys pose a significant concern for taxpayers, and Florida TaxWatch also finds the steady increase in member projects, or budget earmarks for local spending, particularly alarming this year,” said Florida TaxWatch Senior Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner. “These projects are funded at the expense of statewide priorities, core functions of government, and an appropriate level of accountability the people of Florida expect from those they elected to represent them in Tallahassee. Therefore, we continue to recommend that, if the legislature is going to fund such projects – which are traditionally the responsibility of local governments or private entities – there must be a systematic review and selection process to preserve the best interest of Floridians.”
Florida TaxWatch also found that the 2023-24 budget contains a record number of member projects—more than 1,540 projects worth approximately $3.2 billion, which it points out means that each lawmaker was able to secure an average of nearly 10 member projects worth an average of $20 million for their home district. The 2023 member project total topped last year’s $2.8 billion total, and over the last seven years, almost $9 billion in member projects have been funded. The group further contends that a relatively small number of member projects are statewide in scope or add additional funding to existing state programs, but the vast majority of them are local projects.
“Adding more local spending through budget earmarks is done at the expense of statewide priorities, core functions, and accountability,” the report states.