Florida taxpayers are set to pay $120 million for projects inserted into the budget and not publicly vetted by lawmakers next year, according to the 2014 Budget Turkey Report t from Florida TaxWatch. The annual independent budget review highlights appropriations that circumvent transparency and accountability standards in public budgeting
“Florida TaxWatch commends the Legislature for creating a balanced budget that meets the needs of many of our citizens and returns money to Florida’s hard-working taxpayers through tax cuts, but as the taxpayers’ watchdog, it is our responsibility to disclose each of the projects that did not receive adequate scrutiny during the budget process,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog.
The “Budget Turkey” label does not signify judgment of a project’s worthiness or value. 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.”
The 2014 Budget Turkeys make up less than one-quarter of one percent of this year’s $77.1 billion budget, which is the largest in Florida’s history. Governor Rick Scott is required to sign the budget and exercise his constitutional line-item veto authority and responsibility before June 4th. This TaxWatch Report calls for the Governor to carefully consider the Budget Turkeys during his veto process.
“The Budget Turkey Report highlights projects that require additional review by the Governor to determine adequate need,” said Robert E. Weissert, Esq., Chief Research Officer and General Counsel. “While many of these projects serve important local and statewide functions, maintaining the integrity of the budget process is vital to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”
In addition to listing the Budget Turkeys, the Report contains highlights from this year’s Legislative budgeting process, emphasizing the lack of transparency during the appropriation of projects appearing on the list.
Though the Legislature was fortunate to have a surplus exceeding $1 billion, they were unable to fund several budget priorities, including provisions of the 2014 House and Senate Work Plan. The Report provides alternative options for the use of the $120 million, including increasing per student funding by 3.24 percent rather than 2.61 percent, reducing the Agency for Persons With Disabilities’ Waitlist by more than 4,000 individuals, and increasing state employee salaries by more than $1,000.
“The projects included in this year’s Budget Turkey Report were appropriated outside of transparent budgeting channels which provide standards for accountability,” said Calabro. “This year’s Budget Turkeys cost taxpayers more than $120 million of their hard-earned money that could have gone to fund other projects that demonstrated need.”
» Read the full report here: “2014 Budget Turkeys”