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Wednesday, Jul 29, 2015

Plenty of pork found in Florida's new budget Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 06:31 PM

The News Herald, Panama City, Fla., on legislative pork:

… Florida Tax Watch released its annual "Turkey List," a compendium of spending projects legislators inserted in the state budget by bypassing normal budgeting procedures. The 2012 session of the Legislature racked up 159 questionable appropriations — the most since 2007 — worth $171 million. That sum at least is less than the $203 million in turkeys lawmakers raised last year.

Bay County turned up on the list once: $250,000 earmarked for the Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida. That's the second year in a row the former Junior Museum earned a fowl call from Tax Watch officials.

That could indicate that Panhandle lawmakers are more fiscally responsible than many of their colleagues in the Legislature — or that they lack the political clout to funnel taxpayer dollars back home.

It's no surprise that the hometowns of some of Tallahassee's heaviest hitters get some of the biggest turkeys. Brevard County, home to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, received more than $28 million in turkeys, including $10 million for an economic development commission and $14 million for a public safety institute at the local community college.

Orange County, home to House Speaker Dean Cannon, has 14 turkeys totaling $15 million. Glades County, population 11,000, just happens to be in the districts of both the budget chairs: Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, in the House, and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, in the Senate. It is slated to get $5 million for an emergency operations center and $400,000 for its courthouse. …

Tax Watch doesn't pass judgment on every turkey. Some of these expenditures might be necessary and worthy. The problem is these projects did not go through review and selection processes that are established in state law, or were inserted in the budget during conference committee deliberations. That can lead to chicanery, such as the "Taj Mahal" courthouse in Tallahassee or ex-Rep. Ray Sansom's infamous aircraft hangar in Destin.

Public expenditures must be thoroughly vetted, particularly in these times of tight budgets and cutbacks, to ensure dollars are being spent wisely.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott set records by vetoing 83 percent of the turkeys (87 projects out of 105) and 89 percent of the spending ($181 million out of $203 million). Don't expect him to approach those numbers this year. Tax Watch notes that many 2012 turkeys are related to "economic development," which has been Scott's priority. …