For the first time in more than ten years, a watchdog group says your tax dollars aren't paying for any "turkeys" in the state budget. The group TaxWatch says it didn't find any of the special member projects that met its "turkey" criteria in the budget this year, but democrats at the capitol say there's still plenty of pork.
Florida TaxWatch President, Dominic Calabro, brought an actual stuffed turkey to make his point this year. Turkeys refer to costly, non-essential projects that tend to show up in the districts of powerful lawmakers. For the first time since 1992, nothing in this year's state budget met TaxWatch's strict criteria for turkey projects.
TaxWatch did find millions of budget items it calls questionable, nearly $36 million in projects ranging from more than $8 million for a multi-purpose building at Hillsboro Community College in House Speaker Johnny Byrd's district, to $1 million for a pharmacy building at Florida A&M the university wasn't even planning on for at least five years.
“We checked with each of the institutions and of course, they said yes, they support and want that stuff. What we don't know is whether that affected another institution negatively,” says Kurt Wenner.
Rep. Loranne Ausley says $36 million of non- essential projects should raise red flags.
“These projects have merit but does it make sense to fund them when we're not funding education at the level it needs to be funded, we're not funding health care, we're taking money away from arts and culture and we're taking away money from trust funds,” she says.
It will be up to the governor and his veto pen to decide whether the state budget is truly turkey-free in the end. We contacted House Speaker Johnnie Byrd's office to ask him about the community college building in Plant City.
Byrd's spokeswoman says, "This project was an important priority for both Hillsborough Community College and Plant City. The request had been placed on the list by the Board of Education long before Johnnie Byrd was speaker."
Other projects TaxWatch has asked the governor to look at include:
- $543,000 for the remodeling and renovation of a gymnasium at Manatee Community College in Venice.
- $11.3 million for an engineering building at the University of Central Florida.
- $2 million for a social sciences building at the University of North Florida
- $5 million for a genetics building at the University of Florida.
- $7.5 million for four projects at Florida State, including a marine science research and training center, a life sciences teaching and research center and facilities at its Panama City campus.