Florida TaxWatch calls for limits on trust fund “sweeping”

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Government watchdogs at Florida TaxWatch released a new report today calling for limits to the legislative practice of “sweeping,” where lawmakers transfer trust funds to the state’s General Revenue as a way to balance budgets.

Trust funds are supposed to be money earmarked for certain projects, often tied to specific revenue sources.

The report — Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds — says although they increase flexibility while budgeting, each bill that attempts to sweep funds should be passed separately.  

Since 2008, state legislators has swept more than $3.4 billion from trust funds, counting them as General Revenue funds  to balance the state budget. In the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, they proposed another $174.2 million in trust fund sweeps.

“Florida’s lawmakers must have flexibility when determining how to craft our state budget, but trust funds are created to fund specific needs and draining them can severely impact those needs,” said Florida TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro. “This increased accountability measure will ensure that the Legislature has access to the funds they need, but will prevent overzealous sweeps that may have unintended consequences.”

The TaxWatch report does recognize trust fund sweeps are sometimes needed to ensure essential services remain funded, compared to other, non-core services. However, before sweeping funds to distribute income evenly, the non-profit group recommends the Legislature should first consider the impact of the sweeps on all areas of the budget.

Requiring separate general bills for each trust fund sweep allows for greater input from legislators, testimony from affected parties, staff analysis, and an economic impact evaluation, where appropriate.

Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds is now available online.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.