Talkin' Turkey: Over $200 Million Spent on Turkeys During Fla. Session

By: Florida TaxWatch Release
By: Florida TaxWatch Release

TALLAHASSEE, FL- May 24, 2011

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro today released the annual Turkey Watch report. Florida TaxWatch has been releasing this report annually since 1983. The report spotlights legislative projects placed in the budget without proper opportunity for public review and debate, which circumvent lawfully established procedures, or which non-competitively benefit a very limited special interest or local area of the state. The "budget turkey" label does not condemn a project's worthiness, but instead focuses on the budget process, including instances where the Legislature has not followed its own policies and procedures to ensure the highest standards of accountability and government efficiency.

This year Florida TaxWatch has identified 105 appropriations worth $203 million as budget turkeys, the most since 2007. This year's Turkey List consists largely of appropriations to specific organizations that were added in conference and appropriations that bypassed established selection processes or competitive bidding. Many of these were added late in the conference - even after the conference committees had finished their work and unresolved issues were "bumped" to the leadership.

"The 2011 Legislature was ambitious and achieved worthwhile goals, including huge reforms in education, Medicaid, criminal justice and the state pension system, reorganizing government and strengthening the state's economic development system," said Calabro. "While our leaders should be commended for making many tough, unpopular decisions in the best interest of Floridians this year, their achievements make the high number of Turkeys disappointing. In one of the toughest budget years on record, our leaders should have been as disciplined and consistent with taxpayer money as Florida families are forced to be with their own budgets."

One of the most unfortunate side effects to the Turkeys-especially in a tight budget year-is that cuts to essential state services could have been lessened without these projects. While not all of the $203 million in turkeys could be used in other parts of the budget--$65 million comes from bond proceeds--$71 million in general revenue turkeys could have been easily spent elsewhere and the non-bonding total of $138 million (GR and trust funds) could have been spent with further legislative action. Here are just a few alternatives to this year's turkeys:

- Student Funding - $138 million could increase per student funding for K-12 by $53.

- Medicaid Cuts - Eliminate most of the 6.5 percent Medicaid reimbursement rate cut to nursing homes worth $163 million.
Saving Transportation Jobs - Using the savings from general revenue alone, the sweep of the State Transportation Trust Fund could have been cut almost in half, savings thousands of jobs.

- Helping All Florida Employers - $91 million could have paid the interest due in 2012 on the federal loans the state took to prop up the
Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. This could have provided some relief to employers who are facing massive increases in their unemployment compensation tax rates.

- Tax Relief - Offset the first year cash reduction in revenues from reducing the corporate income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

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