Florida TaxWatch identifies $120 million in 2014 budget turkeys

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Lawmakers doled out a healthy serving of budget “turkeys” in the spending plan for the coming fiscal year, Florida TaxWatch said, as the amount of money dedicated to the pet projects increased in the face of improving economic conditions.

The organization’s annual “Turkey Watch,” released today, identified 107 items in the state budget that TaxWatch said were inserted late in the process or seemed aimed at benefiting special interests. The total spending on the items came to $120 million.

The 2014 Budget Turkey Report consists largely of appropriations to specifc non-state recipients or local governments. Awarding contracted services to specifc providers and specifying narrow geographic locations bypasses competitive bidding and agency input into budget areas where limited funds are needed most.

The “Budget Turkey” label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness or value, insists the report’s authors. Florida TaxWatch identifies the list of Budget Turkeys in order to promote transparency in public budgeting and encourage meaningful legislative review of all appropriations.

“It is understandable that lawmakers would like to share this year’s budget surplus with their local constituents through member projects,” said Kurt Wenner, Vice President for Tax Research at Florida TaxWatch. “However, in order to ensure transparency during appropriations and that proper accountability standards are in place for these projects, the Legislature should establish a competitive selection process for them to receive funding.”

Still, drawing TaxWatch’s ire were the midnight-oil-burning budget conference committees. According to the 2014 report:

“The lack of transparency within these conference committee meetings should be a clarion call for increased accountability in Florida’s budgeting process. For example, though conference committee meetings are required to have a one-hour meeting notice, materials were usually unavailable to the public until afer the meeting already began, or in many cases, not until the meeting had concluded. Te meetings ofered no opportunity for public testimony and several were held afer 11 p.m., even on weekend evenings.”

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.