Florida TaxWatch identifies “only” $106.8 million in budget turkeys as legislators show “restraint”

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Lawmakers doled out the second-largest number of budget “turkeys” since 2007 in the spending plan for the coming fiscal year, Florida TaxWatch said, s 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 $106.8 million.

The 107 turkeys is the second-highest number since 2007, when lawmakers in better budget times tacked 505 of the projects onto the spending plan. Those projects would have cost $256 million had then-Gov. Charlie Crist not cut more than half of them.

“While we believe that there are many good things about this year’s budget and commend the Florida Legislature for their work, we have still identified projects that are turkeys by our long-standing review process,” said Dominic Calabro, President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida TaxWatch, said. “The public funds appropriated to this year’s Turkeys could have been directed to priority programs in need. Although Turkeys make up a relatively small percentage of the budget, these projects would cost taxpayers more than $100 million of their hard-earned dollars. This is why Florida TaxWatch identifies these projects for the Governor’s consideration for line-item vetoes.”

Indeed, Florida’s governors have taken TaxWatch’s “turkey” analyses seriously — perhaps sometimes providing a shortcut through which flagged projects receive additional scrutiny.  Over the past 27 years, Florida governors have vetoed more than $2 billion in projects that appeared on the annual Turkey list.

Governor Rick Scott vetoes have been particularly aligned with the watchdog’s assessments: during the two years of his administration about 70 percent of TaxWatch Turkeys have been vetoed, totaling $244 million in taxpayer dollars being returned to the coffers.

However, this year Scott will have fewer such items to scour. Despite having a budget surplus for the first time in years, legislative budget writers showed restraint. TaxWatch identified 52 fewer Turkeys this year than last.

According to TaxWatch, three areas historically contain a large number of potential Turkeys: economic development projects, water projects, and school and instructional enhancements.

To see the list of 2013 Turkeys, download the report here.

— Karen Cyphers contributed to this post.

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.